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The Legal Empowerment Clinic: A Successful Combination of the Legal Clinic and Legal Empowerment

By: Xu Yawen, Cheng Qian

Abstract: With the development of clinical legal education, legal clinics have begun to highlight its value in “social justice,” in addition to its value as a practical legal education model. When it is combined with the concept of legal empowerment, a new type of legal clinic, namely the legal empowerment clinic emerged. This combination is a success because clinical legal education and legal empowerment share common goals and characteristics in certain aspects. With this combination, these two types of programs promote each other. On the one hand, legal empowerment inspires clinic legal education with new methodologies and themes; on the other hand, legal clinics provide legal empowerment programs with new approaches and resources. Hence the value of the legal empowerment clinic.

As a new type of legal clinic, the concept of the legal empowerment clinic is not “lawyer for” clients, but “lawyer with” clients. The main characteristics of the legal empowerment clinic include: (1) recognition of the importance of alternative dispute resolutions and multiple ways to achieve social justice; (2) community-based approaches; and (3) encouragement of the participation of clients in the programs and legal empowerment for clients. The most important principles of the legal empowerment clinic are: (1) taking the interests of the students and clients of the clinic as the highest values, and keeping a balance between its educational function and social function; (2) focusing on the empowerment for clients and their communities by deciding topics and program designs from the perspective of legal empowerment, empowering the clients during service, and promoting the changes of policies and the social environment to achieve an equal standing for the client within the power structure. There are several activities which legal empowerment clinics can launch, including providing legal aid for individual clients, and engaging in community legal education, community-based paralegal training, community legal research and policy/legal advocacy. To improve legal empowerment clinics, we can monitor and evaluate the quality of their teaching and management, and the impact of the above activities by quantitative and/or qualitative methods.

This paper discusses the legal empowerment clinic, a new issue in the fields of clinical legal education and legal empowerment. The research of this topic is of great significance to the development of China’s clinical legal education and legal aid as well as to the improvement of rights of vulnerable communities. The paper demonstrates a new type of legal clinic, namely legal empowerment clinic, and summarizes its characteristics and principles. It looks into the latest theories on legal empowerment and the practice of clinical legal education in China, and probes into the possible activities and the methods for monitoring and evaluating legal empowerment clinics. Finally, due to space limitations, this article only gives a general introduction of the monitoring and evaluating methods of legal empowerment clinics without expatiating on their procedures and tools.

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Uploaded on: Jan 15, 2016
Year Published: 2014
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