What is a Legal Clinic?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A legal clinic is a facility run by a law school to provide free services to the public while training their students in clinical law practice. Law students work at a legal clinic for school credit and to gain experience in handling real legal problems. Legal clinics are popular in many different countries, and can make a great difference to local communities by offering pro bono services to those that cannot afford to hire a lawyer.

Legal clinics may help manage issues like instances of domestic abuse.
Legal clinics may help manage issues like instances of domestic abuse.

Some educational experts believe that, like medical students, legal students may learn better when given opportunities to put their skills to practical use. By allowing students to meet with clients, file claims, do case research, and manage real cases, a legal clinic helps ingrain the knowledge gained in classrooms into the practice of future lawyers. Students usually work under heavy supervision, and are rarely permitted to argue oral cases in court. Nevertheless, they have the opportunity to work closely with the clients throughout the span of the case, acting much as a professional lawyer would.

Some organizations offer free legal advice via telephone.
Some organizations offer free legal advice via telephone.

Legal clinics may offer a variety of different surfaces, and may specialize in different areas of the law. Some specialties may include tax law, immigration law, criminal law, environmental law, family law, and basic community civil legal services. A large law school in an urban area may operate several legal clinics throughout the city, giving students the opportunity to test out their interest and ability in different areas of the law.

Legal clinics may provide assistance for people with poor living conditions.
Legal clinics may provide assistance for people with poor living conditions.

In addition to providing training experience for students, opening a legal clinic can help a school engage in the improvement of the community. Lawyers are famously expensive in most cases, with the result being that justice can often only be managed by those with sufficient funds. Legal clinics can help manage serious issues in a community, such as domestic abuse, slum lord tenancy, gang problems, and elder law issues. Some corporations and non-profit organizations provide grants to fund legal clinics in the hope of inspiring more schools to create these programs.

Any citizen may visit a legal clinic for assistance, though in areas with multiple clinics, assistance may be broken down by geographical area or legal issues handled at a particular location. While much of the work is done by students, it is done so under regular supervision, so that clients can be confident that they are receiving fair legal advice. The popularity of legal clinics is such that there may be a waiting list for assistance; in an emergency situation, clients should try to explain the urgent necessity and ask if there is an expedited process.

Legal clinics can help couples navigate immigration laws.
Legal clinics can help couples navigate immigration laws.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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