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Building a clinical legal education canvas

By Abigail de Rijp, Aditya Tannu, Aga Jachimowicz, Aitana Pallas Alvarez, Dana Altajem, Elpida Nikandrou, Georgia Borissova, Sena Aydin and Siddharth Peter de Souza



From October to December 2023, the TILT (Tilburg Institute for Law, Technology, and Society) Access to Justice Technology and Design Lab worked on a project to understand how practitioners in The Netherlands and around the world develop legal clinics that are particularly focussed on, but not limited to, the field of law and technology. Some of our guiding questions for this research included:


  • What role does clinical education play in the studies of law and technology?

  • What kinds of spaces and support are necessary to build such experiential education within universities?

  • What types of curricula can be developed, and what role should it play within bachelor and master programs?

  • What kind of partnerships are useful to give students real world experiences, and how can one build such partnerships?

  • How can we build structures to ensure that clinical education is sustainable?

  • What could be the preferred outcomes of clinical education and how does this aid graduates interested in a career in the field of law and technology?


To investigate these questions further, we organised a one-day workshop in November 2023, with Francis Singleton from the University of Amsterdam, Ilona van Opdorp-van de Kooi from Erasmus University Rotterdam, Anna Pivaty from Radboud University, and Colette Cuijpers from Tilburg University, and learnt about their experiences in developing clinical education programs. Additionally, we analysed projects from the United Kingdom, India, South Africa, and the United States to understand what kind of comparative distinctions exist when developing programs.


In seeking to contribute to building a culture of clinical legal education, our next step was to think about what form our intervention could take such that it would be useful and usable for our audience, amongst others, being teachers and facilitators of clinical legal education. Our initial thought was to develop a framework that is easy to navigate, while at the same time not being prescriptive. We wanted to make a framework that would include provocations for thinking about building a clinic more closely, and offer a schema as well as checklist to identify, analyse and assess ways to do so in a manner that improves students’ experience as well as facilitate long term sustainable structures within and outside the university for faculty and partners.


For the purposes of the canvas, clinical education refers to programs that provide students with knowledge and skills that can help them better understand and transition from theory to practice. We believe that it plays a key role in introducing students to working on real life projects which are designed to have tangible impacts in the societies they live in.


Design of the canvas


The design of the canvas is based on a set of questions that were inspired by the data (and knowledge) we collected through our research and the clinical education workshop we organised with participants from different universities. These questions envelop the crucial issues that might be encountered by end-users who would wish to establish a clinic. Consequently, while the canvas is designed to provide the scaffolding necessary to build a clinical legal program, it does not offer a precise model of what an ideal clinic should look like. In doing so, it aims to be open enough for users to interpret the questions from their own perspectives and within their own contexts, creating a space for adjustments and adaptations of the canvas in a manner that best fits their aspirations.


Through a deliberate fusion of vibrant colours, intuitive icons, and structured sections, we created an engaging visual representation that transcends the traditional approach to clinical education we came across. The use of colour-coded elements enhances visual appeal and contributes to cognitive mapping, facilitating information retention.


This design prioritises clarity, featuring a user-friendly interface that breaks down complex concepts into easily digestible components.


Layout of the canvas


The canvas is divided into 18 boxes that are organised under six themes with three separate topics, each serving a distinct purpose. This matrix-like structure allows readers to delve into critical facets of Clinical Education, addressing the main problems and challenges commonly encountered when establishing a legal clinic.


Each section of the canvas fulfils a distinct purpose, expertly guiding readers through the critical facets of Clinical Education. To effectively navigate the canvas, readers have the flexibility to adopt various approaches – reading from right to left and top to bottom, or directly exploring themes of interest on the left. This adaptability accommodates different reading preferences, enabling users to explore topics sequentially or focus on specific themes. The intentional framing of the canvas with questions, rather than answers, acknowledges the uniqueness of each legal lab. This approach transforms the canvas into a versatile tool, fostering conversations and brainstorming on essential aspects. Accessible in PDF format, the canvas provides interactive features such as adding comments or the option to print it out for handwritten notes directly onto it.


In the following section, we will discuss each section of the canvas, and provide an overview of the key aspects and intentions behind the design.


Goal/ Mission


Our preliminary research highlighted a few key considerations for aspiring clinical legal educators when designing and compiling a proposal for a clinic or lab. The first step in establishing an organised and effective lab is to brainstorm its topic, mission, and primary goals. Defining these offers a common purpose and motivation for the participants of the lab. It should also be considered in what ways the mission and goals align with those of the university or academic department the lab will be functioning within.


Secondly, a solid proposal for a legal clinic or lab must also define the value proposition for the student, academic, and general communities. For example, many legal clinics will offer students the opportunity to practise their legal theory by aiding community members in their legal challenges and encouraging academic collaboration across academic circles. Prior inventory of the expertise of existing staff might aid in assessing the availability of relevant knowledge for establishing and/or operating an efficient lab.


The final box of the first section of the canvas provides guidance on establishing a risk management process so that risks can be identified and mitigated in a timely manner at any point of the lab’s development, thereby reducing the impact of those risks and paving way for more opportunities to emerge. As part of this exercise, it is important to consider some potential risks and ethical concerns that may arise in the lab's implementation, or in collaboration with external groups and individuals. Once these risks have been identified and their impact and likelihood rated, mitigation plans may be drawn up to mitigate them. Hence, it could be of value to consider establishing a standard risk assessment process with the teaching team that can be for future purposes, and processes for conflict resolution and succession planning.


Organisation


After laying the foundation of a clinic or lab, it is important to start thinking about its organisational structure. This concerns how the lab will be arranged and organised, the roles of staff, decision-making processes, etc. Our canvas outlines three crucial components concerning the organisational structure, namely: internal organisation, external cooperation, and student cooperation. Carefully considering these elements will have a positive impact on the continuity and sustainability of the lab/clinic.


As mentioned before, an inventory of the expertise of existing and or involved members is important for establishing efficacy of the lab; this (also) regards the internal organisation of the lab. Additionally, a clear delineation of the necessary tasks required for running the lab is also required to guarantee its sustainability


Another important aspect of the internal structure is external cooperation. This encompasses the way external cooperation will take place. Noteworthy elements regard: the (scope of the activities of the) external parties themselves, the contribution of this partnership on learning experiences offered by the lab, and whether the conditions of such cooperation offer acceptable terms that align with the vision of the lab, and its continuity.


Lastly – within internal structure – student cooperation deals with involvement of the student voice in the operations of the lab. The underlying idea here is that students can offer valuable insights into the needs and wants of the target student body that might not be apparent to the organisers. For this component, it is important to establish the areas in which student cooperation will be necessary – if at all – and how this involvement will take place or be effectuated.


Core activities


What are the main activities of a lab?  The section on core activities relates to the actual activities of the lab, such as the curriculum, the different projects that the students would participate in, and how students engage with the educational content of the clinic. The questions related to the curriculum aid the lab in creating a curriculum that caters to the needs and interests of students – both in terms of content and the type of teaching methods used, as well as adapting to the interests of students and teachers.


The main idea behind the questions for student participation is to ensure that the expectations and needs of both the students and the university align and that there is a balance between the students’ responsibilities inside and outside the lab. This section also includes potential questions related to the selection process, such as, for example, whether the lab should include everyone that expresses an interest in participating, or whether an application process is preferred. Finally, the questions on projects have a similar objective of aligning interests, but also consider the incentives of students for joining the lab (e.g., considering student motivations if grades are given).


Resources


Sustainable and accessible resources that will give life to this structure are a critical element in sustaining the life of the lab. These resources include personnel, funding, and facilities. One of the core resources needed for clinical education is choosing the different actors – or personnel – such as educators, students and facilitators that will participate in the project(s). While deciding on the actors, principal factors to decide on are the sustainability of their participation and their contribution to the clinic. Allowing each actor to participate according to the skill set they bring creates opportunities for growth of participants as well as the lab/clinic.


Next, funding of the clinic or lab needs to be considered, as there might be diverse types of funding available which can, for example, be provided by the University, faculty, public or private entities as well as individual supporters. Considering the sustainability of the funding, it is important to decide on which type of funding will be attracted. Two noteworthy considerations regard the impact of the clinic’s ability to function independently and its ability to (continue to) operate within its designated scope, mission, and vision. The former can be decided on by evaluating the conditions upon which the funding is based, whilst the latter concerns the activities of the funder itself and whether these align with those of the clinic/lab, especially in light of ethics and morals. Preferably, in guaranteeing transparency and accurate expectation management, the terms and conditions of funding should be set before the actual funding takes place. This includes a clear delineation of the means, outputs, and foreseeable risks of the funding.


The final resource, facilities, plays a significant role in the learning environment within which the clinic or lab takes place. The learning environment can include distinct types of educational approaches, cultural contexts or physical settings that will affect the participation of the students. For the management of the clinic, it is important to decide what kind of learning environment they would like to create both for students and themselves which will clarify what kind of (physical) facilities the clinic requires.


Roll- out


The section ‘Roll-out’ constitutes one of the later puzzle pieces in the process of creating a lab. It is part of the execution stage, following forward-looking decisions and planning that take place in previous sections of the Canvas. As such, it zooms in on practical considerations like scheduling, timing of actions and communications, division of responsibilities, and lab coordination. These dimensions are present in the components of ‘Recruitment,’ ‘Information and Communication’ and ‘Administration.’ The main aim of the section’s questions is to give lab creators an idea of the practical steps that can be taken right before the lab is up and running. This will facilitate a smooth transition from the ideation stage to the execution stage, focusing the attention of creators on details they might otherwise oversee.


The ‘Recruitment’ component focuses on how final decisions on collaborators of the labs should be made, and on how and when potential staff and student-participants should be included for, e.g., content, communication, and deadlines of applications. Next, ‘Information and Communication’ is concerned with the timing and content of advertising materials of the lab, and with assigning staff members to handle incoming communications. Finally, ‘Administration’ underlines the need for a stable contact point between the lab and the university to facilitate coordination, and of a lab schedule that is compatible with the students’ university schedule and worth an appropriate reward.


Reflections


Reflecting on the activities and processes of the lab is crucial to fulfilling the mission and goals of the lab in a sustainable manner. Incorporating periodic reflective exercises could include the assessment of core activities and their impact, feedback provided by stakeholders such as students and teachers, and evaluating the sustainability of the lab in terms of funding.


The collection and implementation of feedback is critical for the sustainability of the lab, as it is essential for universities to consider the needs of all the parties involved, and the need to adapt the content and format of the lab to their needs. Questions concerning such feedback guide the lab in deciding at what stage and in which form such feedback needs to be collected, how stakeholders can be encouraged to provide feedback, and, finally, how such feedback can be effectively implemented.


In measuring the impact of the lab’s core activities, the canvas provides questions that help decide how such impact will be measured and what effect such activities have on all stakeholders. This will help reflect on the alignment with the goals and missions of the lab. Finally, sustainability and reporting deal with taking stock of available funding for the lab and brainstorming the longevity of the lab’s theme of focus. This process is strengthened by creating (evaluative) reports that imbibe accountability within the lab.


Conclusion


In conclusion, the canvas functions as a comprehensive guide that encapsulates essential components, which we considered crucial for initiating a transformative venture in clinical legal education. Beyond being a visual aid, our canvas is a meticulously crafted tool designed to empower readers in navigating the intricacies of establishing and operating clinical education. In doing so, our Clinical Legal Education Canvas covers the pivotal aspects required to build a dynamic and impactful legal lab, offering a roadmap for universities venturing into the realm of experimental legal education. Nevertheless, alongside its potential for direct enforceability, by making use of guiding questions for each section, the canvas creates sufficient space for interested parties to incorporate further adjustments that would align with their specific wants and needs. We hope canvas can be viewed as a powerful tool that helps establish clinics all over the globe, beyond specific societal, educational, and geographic limitations.

(Acknowledgements: Thanks to Anna Pivaty for her comments on the canvas)



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