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Inspiring the next generation of social justice lawyers

Over the last three months, Law Centre NI has hosted 18 final year law students from Queen’s University Belfast as part of their Clinical Law Module. During their time at the Law Centre, students had the opportunity to develop key legal skills while learning about different areas of social justice law, with a particular focus on social security. 

Many of the students choose the Clinical Law Module to develop key skills, but also to learn more about different areas of law that are often not part of the core curriculum in undergraduate degrees. 

The pandemic meant that we had to pause the Clinical Law placement for a few years, and we are delighted that this is now the second year since 2020 that we have welcomed students back to the office.  

There was such a buzz of excitement to see so many new faces at the Law Centre, all of whom had a keen interest in learning and using the law to make a difference.  

Students completed a variety of practical legal tasks under the supervision and guidance of Law Centre staff. They also learned about the importance of influencing law, policy, and practice in our work to change people’s lives for the better. The students undertook research tasks to develop their understanding of the barriers preventing people accessing, engaging, and trusting a legal system that is there to protect them. 

During their ten-week placement, students worked on real cases and contributed to the work of the legal teams in the Law Centre office.  

The Clinical Law Module provides a unique opportunity for students to gain practical experience while developing their knowledge of more social welfare-centred areas of law, particularly those that are sometimes unavailable under the normal university curriculum.  

“The placement exceeded my expectations. It met my expectations with the kind of work I completed, but it exceeded my expectations in terms of the knowledge and learning I gained. I did not expect to see myself and my knowledge grow so much over these past 10 weeks.” 

Without exposure to these different areas of law, students often do not realise that they exist and could be a potential future career path. With the current challenges facing the advice sector it is more important than ever that we inspire students to get involved with social justice law where they can make a real difference to people’s lives.  

“I loved my experience on placement. I have learnt more than I ever would have imagined for a 10-week placement. The team and the training at the Law Centre has been first class. I can definitely say it has made me a more socially conscious person and a better law student.” 

During the placement with us, students experienced up close the provision of legal advice by our advisers, the importance of our policy work, and how upskilling and training community members can all impact change and empower people to protect their rights. As a result of observing these different elements of our work, students were encouraged to engage with the law holistically and actively challenge its fairness and accessibility. As part of the Law Centre team, they experienced a well-rounded approach to the law and legal advice while also learning about different career opportunities and roles outside of the traditional qualification routes.  

The Clinical Law placement is a learning opportunity for students and requires them to constantly reflect on their experiences, whether it be their ability to simplify complex legislation, interact with the Tribunal process, recognise the importance of consistent client care, or understand how to provide accessible legal services.  

“It was the single best and most beneficial experience of my legal education.”  

To reflect on their experiences during the Clinical Law Module, the Law Centre brought all the students together for their final session to share their experiences and consider the different tasks they completed. Students talked about the positive elements of the law in practice, and presented their ideas for improvement, including new policies and legislation they would implement to increase access to justice for everyone, not only those who are able to afford it. 

“This has been the most insightful module I have done in the past three years of the degree. I would recommend the course to everyone throughout 1st – 3rd year. I feel as though I have learnt more in the past ten-week placement compared to any other module.” 

The placement at the Law Centre offers a fantastic opportunity to inspire the next generation of social welfare solicitors, while also helping fill the gap in services left by the increasingly challenging environment in the advice sector. Thank you to all the students who completed the placement and made a lasting difference to the lives of our clients. 

“The placement has been a rare opportunity to gain hands-on experience in legal work, even if some of us have limited or no prior legal work experience. We have been supported and guided throughout the entire process with care and patience, thus the environment is optimal for learning, making mistakes and improving.”