yuliya kvatsik, lecturer in belarus practicing Clinical Legal education

Clinical Legal Education: ‘It is concrete, hands-on, and useful’

By: Christina Geijer af Ekström,

Yuliya Khvatsik is a Clinical Professor at the Belarus State University. Her main professional interest is Clinical Legal Education (CLE). It involves experiential learning and interactive teaching methods, supporting the education of law students as future lawyers, through street law, live client or advisory legal clinics, among others.

CLE is a powerful pedagogical and participatory method engaging tutors, students and universities in an international community.

RWI supports and teaches CLE, the purpose of which is to achieve justice through education. RWI aims to bring people from various countries and fields together to exchange perspectives and work collaboratively, aiming at increasing the quality of legal teaching.

– Most of what I know about CLE, I have learned from working with and participating in trainings arranged by RWI, Khvatsik says.

Real life cases and sessions

The teaching in CLE consists of so-called legal clinics; staged as well as real cases in which students get the opportunity to work as if in a real law service setting. They practice law, perform legal science, write reports and legal documents and interview “live” clients.

Students also participate in debates, case studies, and group discussions, which are other components of CLE.

In addition, students practice public speaking, promoting legal literacy to vulnerable social groups (schoolchildren, retired persons, juvenile offenders etc.) in interactive classes such as TV and radio performances. The also create printing materials about the practical aspects of law.

Khvatsik is one of the most experienced scholars facilitating legal clinics in Belarus. Aware of the importance of experiential learning on legal education she mentioned:

– The real cases that the students encounter and wrestle with are common legal issues that will appear in their future work life, she says.

Developing the method

Khvatsik’s current research topic is the method of CLE itself. Hence, she is taking her experiences and knowledge about CLE a step further:

– In my current research, I am investigating and analysing CLE. I aim to find ways of further developing the method. I want to make it more practical, interactive. And more popular.

Even though CLE is becoming more and more widespread and accepted as an efficient learning method, Khvatsik would like to see the use of the method increasing in the region.

– Through my research, we are putting together a manual for CLE. It will be a systematic guide for tutors not yet familiar with this way of teaching. I am addressing other academicians, human rights educators, schools, NGOs and universities with the manual.

Why Clinical Legal Education?

By now, it is clear that Khvatsik is fully engaged in the promotion and development of this method. In fact, she realised how effective it is since from the time in which she was a student:

– The training method is so interactive and practical: you learn by doing. Naturally, this is an efficient way of learning, she says. Whereas traditional HRE in Belarus is very theoretical – it is a lot about reading and commenting on laws – CLE represents a real life experience. It is as if you were a lawyer with actual clients.

For a future lawyer, learning through simulating real case scenarios is valuable in many ways:

– You get used to interacting with clients, dealing with their real, actual life challenges and cases. It is purposeful, too. You help and feel the gratefulness of the clients, who have no money for lawyers. It makes a big difference to feel that you make a difference and that you influence people’s lives in a direct, positive way.

Law coming to life

The concrete examples that the students encounter, make law and human rights come to life:

– A recurring dilemma is the divorced father – and his parents – seeking advice. His former wife does not agree to them meeting the child. However, he, just like the mother, has the right to meet his child. And so do the grandparents. In such a case, mediation can be a way of making the parties see the various perspectives, Khvatsik explains. Of course, courts can settle these sorts of disputes. However, with legal clinics students learn that there are other ways of solving disputes in civil law, such as mediation.

Students learn that they can help break traditional gender stereotypes, develop gender equality – and reunite families. They quickly gain real life experiences and mature from participating in legal clinics:

– As a student, your confidence really grows. All of a sudden, you know how to address these sorts of situations. It makes you prepared to start working as a lawyer straight away, she says. Also, you broaden your network; with other students, the whole CLE network, and with potential clients.
Another learning objective with the legal clinics is to understand how the law works and to understand its limitations.

CLE makes you see problems with the law.

–  It is not until you try to apply law that you discover what works and what does not. Hence, you learn what you can do to improve it to make it more workable and useful, Khvatsik says. You realise that you can actually influence laws – and bring about human rights change. Legal clinics are also great for exploring what one would like to pursue as a specialization within law later on.

Khvatsik appreciates the international CLE community that she is a part of. ‘It is a very generous, welcoming and engaged network. People help each other a lot and there is no competition.’

 ‘Train-the-trainer’: The trainer gets trained

Since several years, RWI has engaged the CLE international community in supporting and developing CLE activities in Belarus. Khvatsik herself has participated in CLE training sessions with RWI.

– Having concluded these trainings, we – the tutors – understood that the cases we used in our own legal clinics with students were based on cemented roles and stereotypes, Khvatsik says. So, when we went back to work, we formed a working group to rework all of our cases. We had to make sure the situations, the roles of the clients and their behaviour were changed to better represent the reality we are aiming for; with equality between the sexes for example.

Khvatsik is currently leading the implementation of a gender and human rights approach to clinical legal education – a long-term process – to overcome gender stereotypes.

Yuliya Khvatsik visiting the RWI library
Yuliya Khvatsik visiting the RWI library

Yuliya Khvatsik: Why I love CLE

– The community is great! It is an international, warm community that is open, learning and embracing.
– CLE is meaningful. You help and you feel the gratefulness of the clients, who have no money for lawyers.
– You work with students – and I love to work with students! They have such energy. This gives you very much, on a personal as well as professional level. You learn a lot from young people.
– CLE has a focus on’ doing’. I like this a lot. It is not only about writing essays – it is about being a part of a process.
– You get to discover law and see what area you are the most interested in.

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