Legal clinics and pro bono work: raising awareness today for a better tomorrow
Our commitment as an institution is to be involved in shaping our future society and investing in a more sustainable world. Learn more of IE’s clinical educational model.
Sara Sánchez Fernández co-directs the Legal Clinic at IE Law School, which was created with Francisco de Elizalde in 2014. Fernández, who has a PhD in law, is convinced that legal clinics have the potential to raise awareness among students about the importance of contributing to “a better world.”
After five years at the Legal Clinic, what would you say are the distinguishing elements of your clinical education model?
We support projects with social impact. The cases also have a large international component due to the comparative law methodology that is embedded in our university’s DNA. Having students from different parts of the world facilitates access to and understanding of primary legal sources. For example, we are working on a project with the Max Planck Foundation for International Peace and the Rule of Law to review the Chilean constitution, which draws from analysis of similar reform processes in other countries. In addition to the social and international nature of several of our affairs, the institution’s innate entrepreneurial spirit leads us to develop projects with social entrepreneurs.
Your work demonstrates a commitment to analysis that factors in technology. We see this in projects like Voluntechies and Living with the Algorithm. What role does technology play in the law sector?
The interaction between technology and law is a topical subject that students take great interest in. Therefore, the technological component plays an important role in our projects, whether it’s by collaborating with entities that use technology to develop their activities or because the project has a technological angle. Voluntechies is an organization that uses technology as a leisure tool for hospital patients. Together, we began studying the entire civil liability regime for using this technology in hospitals, and we are currently analyzing volunteer regulations in countries looking to start their activity. The Living with the Algorithm project—which has had a big impact since the academic results were published—analyzed how algorithms affect our daily lives.
“The cases also have a large international component due to the comparative law methodology that is embedded in our university’s DNA. Having students from different parts of the world facilitates access to and understanding of primary legal sources.”
More than 43,700 hours of pro bono work and 203 students from over 30 different countries—what’s your secret?
The key to success is having students who not only excel academically, but also have high social awareness. Not only does the university recognize work from the legal clinic, but students are also obligated to add up the hours they dedicate to each issue. This adds a sense of professionalism to the activity and allows students to adopt work habits that they will carry with them throughout their careers.
IE Law School has been investing in specific training for pro bono work for years now. Why is this important?
Our commitment as an institution is to be involved in shaping our future society and investing in a more sustainable world. In our work at the legal clinic, this is manifested in two ways: participating in projects where we generate social impact now and training future legal professionals committed to tomorrow. Therefore, the impact of intervention in pro bono matters is three-fold: it promotes awareness of pro bono practice; promotes training in the area of law that the project deals with; and involves acquiring soft skills that students will use in their professional lives.
What does it mean for students to participate in such projects with practicing lawyers?
Students are very excited to experience the lawyer-client relationship firsthand, especially graduate students who see it as their first contact with the professional world. It opens up a world of opportunities that they can devote their time to and add value to. We are very pleased to see the pro bono practice taking hold among students, and that more and more of them are interested in working at the legal clinic. This increase could be the result of a generational shift in which students are becoming more socially aware.
“Our commitment as an institution is to be involved in shaping our future society and investing in a more sustainable world.”
You are part of the Spanish Network of Legal Clinics. What challenges do you identify in the clinical world? How can pro bono work and legal clinics collaborate better?
The clinical movement is recent in Spain, so it is still taking hold. Unfortunately, due to the lack of dissemination and visibility of work, society is unaware of the potential that legal clinics have. Improving these aspects and strengthening the theoretical framework of the clinical movement would contribute to greater dissemination and internalization of our work so that it can also be passed on to students. In this sense, the Pro Bono Spain Foundation plays an important role because not only does it identify needs and clients, it also clearly defines the objectives and deadlines for projects we collaborate on at the clinic.
You have worked with the Pro Bono Spain Foundation on several projects, as well as with several of the law firms in our network. What role do the project coordinator and professor in charge of the project play in the law firm?
Without the coordinator there is no project. The work carried out in legal clinics is pedagogical, so guidance on how to handle the matter is essential. Projects with the foundation are particularly comprehensive because there is a practicing lawyer and a professor to help guide the students. Both figures are important in helping students translate the needs of the social organization into legal terms and in giving them feedback to achieve a quality end result.
“Projects with the foundation are particularly comprehensive because there is a practicing lawyer and a professor to help guide the students.”
The foundation plans to promote a pro bono internship in which students combine theoretical learning in an area of law that interests them with pro bono learning, in order to acquire social sensitivity and individual responsibility for our environment. How do you feel about these kinds of initiatives? Do you have any suggestions for future work with the foundation?
I think it’s a wonderful initiative and I hope it can be launched and put into practice soon. The internship program is undoubtedly an opportunity for students to learn that, regardless of what they do on a daily basis or their area of expertise, they can participate in social impact projects and contribute to a better world.
Written and published by Probono España