Inspirations of the First Cross-border School in Warsaw

From previous blogs of Kateryna Datsko and Yulia Khmaruk, you have already found out a little about the First Cross-border School of Professional Skills for Academics of Legal Clinics. However, this time, we decided to try a new blog format – an interview. And the Head of the Board of the Association Andrii Halai agreed to be the first hero of our experimental format.

Anna Myroniuk: One of the elements of the School program was educational excursions to Warsaw’s legal clinics. From the blogs of the School participants, I had the impression that the Polish LC has such model of functioning that resembles small law firms at the university (they have a position of secretary, who records for the consultation, some of them specializes in specific branches of law, students work as assistants of the head of the legal clinic etc). In your opinion, such model is an improved version of our clinics, and we can capture the experience of Polish colleagues? Or there any specificity in the Ukrainian clinical movement, and we should follow our own development vector?

Andrii Halai: Look: even the features you mentioned are not universal, they can both coincide and differ in both the Western and Ukrainian legal clinics. In my legal clinics, for example, I have always tried to build a “law firm”, despite the lack of staff.

In my opinion, there may be many ways of organizing of legal clinics. The model of the law firm, the model of the legal clinic of Professor N, the model of the training course are only a few admissible approaches on the basis of an organizational method. And there are classifications by type (directions of activity), forms of interaction between participants of the legal clinic and with external partners, etc.

Therefore, in conditions of self-government of higher education institutions and independent choice of organizational model, legal clinics in Ukraine are free in how to build their work. With the obligatory observance of the organizational principles defined in the Standards of the Association. It is hard to list in one sentence, I will risk to mention the main one – the presence of a learning component: the training of law students in the practice of professional activity, which is provided / coordinated by competent academics.

А.М.: Comparing the work of the clinics of our more experienced Polish colleagues, what are the main problems of Ukrainian LCs you would highlight, and what are the solutions to them?

А.H.: First of all about the experience. Ukrainian as well as Polish legal clinics started approximately at the same time – in the mid-late 1990’s. Both countries have more ancient twenty years periods, as well as more younger organizations. Therefore, we are peers at the current stage of development.

I will not mention here that both networks had legal clinics at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (this is evidenced by publications, unfortunately not specific enough).

I only mention that, starting at the same time, in my opinion, the Polish network has achieved better results. The thesis that the legal clinic is a university unit and it should be in a curriculum – most of Polish legal clinics (but not all of them) already have not to prove to head of university. In Ukraine, this is less recognized. Why – I’ll say paradoxical and seems not related to the issue thins – but because of the lack of transparency in the organization of education in average Ukrainian universities and their lack of focus on the right goals: competent graduates, ready to practice. But the reform of legal education in Ukraine comes from both top (in the relevant ministries) and at the grassroots level of higher education institutions – therefore, actively promoting the role of legal clinics, we will eventually reach the right legal clinics in Ukraine.

Returning to your question – there are a lot of problems. Among them, not only those that depend on the head of higher education institutions. The group of issues, which allows to be a high-quality legal clinic, is at the level of heads of the legal clinics, its university and on the national level.

А.М.: The legal clinic is more about studying (it is a kind of opportunity for the student to learn all the nuances and subtleties of practice, so to speak “on the draft”) or about the quality of providing services to the client (the main thing is to provide the client with the most effective consultation / service, and the student is not allowed to make a mistake). And how does it work in Poland?

А.H.: Here, in my opinion, Ukrainian and Polish vision of legal clinics may differ: since the Ukrainian system of free legal aid guaranteed by the state is more developed in comparison with Poland (I will not say that it is better from the standpoint of methodology, but this is a difficult issue of professional discussion). In the dry balance Ukrainian legal clinics can afford less to be focused on social objectives of providing legal services to clients and focus on the educational goal.

From myself I will add – only that the educational target for legal clinics is a bit boring. Therefore, it is possible and necessary to look for ways of new forms of participation in social processes. I hinted at several key phrases that could be embodied in the modern work of the legal clinics freed from the burden of the “grandmother’s client conveyor” – the center of innovation, the model of participation in local government and national legal reforms.

And in order to avoid mistakes (we must understand that nobody works without mistakes), it is necessary to carefully build control and mentoring mechanisms.

А.М.: The participants, according to the School program, prepared their own projects. What project or its idea seemed to you the most interesting and potentially effective? Or perhaps, if you were participant, would you be interested in some kind of completely different topic that seems to you more relevant?

А.H.: The idea of ​​preparing these projects is an important component of the quality of this cross-border school. Therefore, it is important for me to evaluate not what these ideas of the participants of the School are directed to, but how they are relevant to the society (involved participants) and innovative, based on previous experience and objective planning (this shows the ability to perform them qualitatively), as well as how well they can combine the activities of several legal clinics at a time.

The last position is extremely important. For some reason, in Ukraine (frankly speaking, not only there), legal clinics collaborate not enough with each other. That precludes their development and weakens in defending their own needs. Therefore, support for regional cooperation projects should strengthen Ukrainian legal clinics, remove them from the object to the active subject if cooperation. For me, this is one of the key tasks that the Association should do (and as you can see, actively). The development of regional co-operation and leadership will enable the Association to be an equal and inclusive working organization.

And several interesting projects were offered. Soon their finalized versions will be considered for financial and mentor support from the Association. We are working on this with donor organizations.

For the heads of legal clinics I will give two advice:

  • No pain, no gain
  • Follow announces and do not twiddle your thumbs.

А.М.: Has the communication with employees of Warsaw’s legal clinics inspired any changes in our clinical movement?

А.H.: The Polish network is one of the best in the world and we are lucky to have such neighbors. I have been trying to keep up to date with their news and ideas (all by the way “serdecznie zapraszam”) for 5 years. Some of them are more or less suitable for implementation in Ukraine, as well as some of the Ukrainian initiatives of the legal clinic movement are studied and implemented by Polish colleagues. So this is a mutual interest and mutual exchange.

What is the agenda for our cooperation? This is a transition from projects involving a foreign party to joint projects. The first was the Cross-border School.

To be continued, at least we have some ideas that will be discussed when they become plans.

Interview was prepared by Аnna Мyroniuk

Inspirations of the First Cross-border School in Warsaw