At its core, and in keeping with the School of Law’s strong reputation as a hub of human rights and public interest law expertise, many of the placements are focused on instilling in students a cognisance of how marginalised groups and individuals are served – or all too often not well-served – under the status quo and of the duty of lawyers to foster expanded access to justice.
The extent to which students, placement supervisors, and, in turn, their service users have gained from the mutually beneficial partnerships at the heart of this module is extraordinary.
For many years, law students have worked with Community Law and Mediation, which has offices in Coolock on Dublin’s northside and in Limerick. Their aim is “to provide people in our communities with expert legal, mediation, and education services they would not otherwise have access to and in doing so, to address underlying issues of injustice and exclusion while working for real change.”
The demand for their assistance has escalated enormously during the pandemic.
As such, two of our students, Nicole Mullan, in her final year of the LLB, and Aoife Donovan, a third year BCL candidate, are supporting the team of skilled solicitors and committed staff to meet the serious housing and other needs of their clients in Limerick and Dublin remotely.
Aoife Donovan comments that “she loved the placement” and that “it was a great opportunity to learn how to create timelines for cases, anonymise and review client documents in connection with active matters at the Residential Tenancies Board. Knowing that my efforts were helping to make a difference in people’s lives in an incredibly difficult period for them was amazing.”
The Galway-based barrister Lorraine Lally, who is a proud public interest lawyer and equality activist, has long been a steadfast partner of and advocate for the clinical legal education programme in the School of Law.
Last year, in a case that garnered national media attention, students aided Ms Lally in her successful representation of an Athenry man who overturned a deportation order.
Over the past few months, three students – Áine Cleary, Amber Gilgan and Clíona Ní Laoi – have been working on a range of issues.
These include: a submission to the Galway City Development Plan on housing with the aim of ensuring that accessibility and other factors that are central to European development goals are fully accounted for; presentations on the equality guarantee in Article 40.1 of the Irish Constitution, equality of women in sport and marine protection legislation; and profiling the lives and accomplishments of Irish woman judges.
In all of these varied tasks, the students say that they are “encouraged to think outside the box”; that they are “required to get out of their comfort zone”; that “it’s great in a legal sense, yet much bigger and more beneficial than that”; and that they are inspired by Ms Lally’s “work ethic and dedication to the causes she cares so much about.”
This is merely a small sampling of the types of work to promote diversity, equality and inclusion that students in the School of Law are undertaking under the broad umbrella of clinical legal education.
Many postgraduates in the Irish Centre for Human Rights are involved in “movement lawyering” with community organisers and practitioners in the human rights law clinic.
There are also a growing number of full-time, year-long placements in which these goals are to the fore.
Moreover, through a public interest externship exchange programme with Suffolk University Law School in Boston, students who have just finished their primary law degrees work every summer with organisations, such as the New England Innocence Project, Greater Boston Legal Services and the Legal Innovation and Technology Lab at Suffolk on an ongoing project “to rapidly create mobile-friendly accessible versions of online court forms and pro se materials in multiple-languages for key areas of urgent legal need amid the COVID-19 crisis.”
Notably, while coronavirus has been an impediment to our students’ engagement in this important work, it has not been an insurmountable obstacle.
Technology has proved a hugely valuable tool in this regard.