A Clinical legal Education can be defined in the following ways:
"An ideal learning environment, whereby students are required to identify,
research and apply knowledge in a particular setting, which almost resembles the
actual world where it is practised.
The essential purpose served through clinical legal education is that it creates
a bridge between theoretical understanding and practical application of law for
the students. This method originated as a part of formal legal education in
India. One classic example of clinical legal education is the Moot Court
competitions that are held in law universities and colleges.
The competitions bring the students one step closer towards a real courtroom
environment and help them to learn the basics of courtroom etiquettes even
before entering the courtroom as a professional lawyer.
It was in the year 1870 when Dean Langdell of Harvard Law School introduced a
new aspect to legal education. Prior to that, students were studying only
substantive law as a liberal art but none of the law schools or universities
Instead of studying systematic treatises of the law, or studying law as an
abstract social science, law students were to study selected appellate opinions
and distil from them the evolution of legal principles. Until the 20th
century, apprenticeship was considered to be either an alternative or an
addition to the basic classroom learning.
However, certain critics remain of the opinion that it is not essential to
include practical applicability of law and legal principles during the initial
years of legal education. Jerome Frank, as an important critic of this ideology,
states that a period of six months is enough to learn the techniques of case
The critics of the case method usually point to its almost exclusive
preoccupation with appellate opinions, which are merely the end products of one
branch of the legal process.
In the meantime, the case method fails to
consider other factors which make up or influence the law or are affected by the
- legislative and administrative materials;
- the trial-level proceedings;
- legal institutions (even the appellate court is not studied as an
- the legal profession;
- social and psychological forces (which may be most profitably studied by
the methods of other disciplines).
Jerome Frank's views on importance of clinical legal education is substantially
a criticism of Landgell's concept. Hence, it is essential to understand the
Langdellian method of legal education in order to get an idea on the method of
clinical legal education suggested by Jerome Frank.
According to Langdell, practicing law solely dealt with the writing of briefs
and examination of printed authorities. There were several university law
schools which were designed on the basis of the Langdellian pattern of legal
education and these universities preferred those as law teachers who were
concerned primarily with law books and not much with the practice of law.
Criticizing the Langdellian pattern, Jerome Frank came forth with certain
concepts of clinical legal education which can be explained in the following
- He suggested that a considerable proportion of law teachers in any law
school should be lawyers with not less than five to ten years of varied
experience in the actual practice of law. With reference to the same, he
also stated that the practical experience of these lawyers should have
expanded to cover areas way beyond the scope of short period of paper work
in a law office. The concerned lawyer must have learned the informal and
formal practicalities of the courts and the art of dealing with the
judiciary. The exclusively book lawyer can perhaps best teach only "library
law". However, such "library-law" teachers should not be put at a dominant
position in the schools.
- The student would be made to see, among other things., the human side of
the administration of justice, which is inclusive of the methods and the
factors on the basis of which cases are decided by the jury. They shall also
know about the advantages as well as disadvantages of jury trials which are
primarily based on the manner in which facts are presented before the Court.
The actual scheme of events and the manner of representing them before the
Court may be distinct from each other.
- It is essential for the student to acquire the knowledge that "legal
rights and duties" are intimately tangled with litigation. A lawyer may be
successful in establishing a legal right based on the remedy he is seeking
from the court. A major aspect of this depends upon the judge and the way in
which the judges react to several testimonies given by witnesses. He should
learn that "legal rights" and "duties" mean merely what may someday happen
at the end of specific lawsuits.
- It is necessary for a law student to learn and grasp the fact that
judges are mere mortal human beings and that establishing of legal rights majorly
depends upon the unprecedented reactions of those mortal human beings to a
variety of factors which include not only the rules, but also the possibly
flawed testimony of other human beings called witnesses.
- The students should also learn the methods used in negotiating contracts
and settlements of controversies.
- As a temporary device and until such time as clinical law schools are
established, students, early in their student days, under the direct and
sustained supervision of their law professors, should be working at
intervals as apprentices in carefully chosen law offices. The practicing
lawyers who assist in such apprentice-training should be made associate
members of the law school faculty-perhaps with some compensation. Between
the regular members of the faculty and such associates a plan of instruction
should be carefully worked out.
Written By: Dr Farrukh Khan, Advocate
- George S. Grossman, 'Clinical Legal Education: History and Diagnosis',
Journal of Legal Education (1974)
Managing Partner of Diwan Advocates