By Gillian Melville, Clinic Supervisor
“The meeting of two people is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Jung
One of this year’s themes for pro bono week is changing lives. At Strathclyde Law Clinic, we know that people can be profoundly impacted by pro bono legal services, not just by being given legal advice, but by the simple act of someone listening to their story and taking them seriously, irrespective of their financial situation. This not only improves access to justice but, on a personal level, increases feelings of empowerment and autonomy which, as one of our alumni put it, is an important psychological effect of pro bono legal services.
However, as we have witnessed first-hand at the clinic, it is not only the recipients of advice who are impacted by this process. Those who volunteer their time to provide legal advice are also changed. At our recent event celebrating the clinic’s 20th birthday, we were overjoyed to see so many of our alumni, people who all at some point during their legal studies used their burgeoning knowledge to help someone navigate unfamiliar legal territory. Simultaneously, they did the same. They tested themselves in the legal world at a formative stage, assuming the role and duties of a lawyer whilst still a student, and in the process began to shape their future professional identity.
As those who attended the 20 year event will have heard, the law clinic was set up with the aim not only of improving access to justice but also to expose lawyers-to- be to these issues at an early stage of their career. The hope was that this would embed in them a sense of fairness and compassion, and a future commitment to pro bono as fully qualified lawyers. As our founder said at the event, it was therefore very heartening to see so many alumni continue to engage with the clinic, through participation in its supervisory committee, giving advice at our evening drop ins, and providing training and much valued support to our current student volunteers.
Law clinics would not function without its volunteers and all the hours that are dedicated not only to legal advice provision but also to the many other tasks that come with running an advice-giving organisation. While we cannot win every case, the impact this dedication has on the clients, who are at the heart of it all, is immeasurable. As one client says:
“Law clinics are fantastic institutions. The atmosphere and camaraderie is amazing, with people all helping each other and rooting for the success of their fellow students’ cases. [I came to the clinic] through unfortunate circumstances but I have met such wonderful people, and that changed my life.”
Happy pro bono week everyone!