14 years ago in Szczecin, in May 1998, ELSA, the European Law Students’ Association organised a conference ‘Reform of legal education. The development of academic legal clinics’. The precedence subject and the joining of the undertaking with the Meeting of Polish Deans of Law Faculties and the Polish Meeting of The Polish Bar Association, allowed for a serious discussion on the issue of clinical education in Poland. The conference gave grounds for a breakthrough in the system of teaching law at Polish universities, introducing, alongside the traditional lecture formula, practical teaching elements and also paved way for the implementation of the university’s vision, promptly reacting to the needs of local communities.
The 13-16 September 2012 Szczecin and Świnoujście-based 18th Polish Conference of Legal Clinics, jointly with the International Conference ‘Development and new trends in legal education’ and the annual Meeting of Polish Deans of Law Faculties was not only a continuation to current heated discussions on teaching methods of future lawyers, but it also served as a summary to the current particular ‘revolution’. The organizers of the event were: the ‘Ius et Ratio’ Association of Social and Legal Education, the Faculty of Law and Administration of the University of Szczecin, Polish Legal Clinics Foundation and Global Alliance for Justice Education. 61 representatives of legal clinics form all over the world took part in the conference – Belarus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Spain, Russia, South Africa, Slovakia, the USA, Ukraine, Thailand and Italy, as well as 14 delegates of Polish Legal Clinics.
The conference started on 13/09/2012 in Szczecin. The following day, the Conference participants set off on a boat trip along the River Odra towards Świnoujście, where the Deans of the Annual Meeting of Polish Deans of Law Faculties had already started their debates. The nearly four-hour cruise was an opportunity to sum up the up-to-date development of legal clinics in the world and the popularization of the idea of education based on the contact with another person and their real problems. The discussion was intertwined with a sentimental theme as some of the Conference participants had also taken part in the 1998 meeting.
The conference participants met the Deans of Polish law faculties at a joint discussion panel dedicated to new trends in legal education and the value of clinical teaching. Filip Czernicki, the President of the Polish Legal Clinics Foundation, greeted the guests referring again to the events of 14 years before, resulting in the creation of legal clinics at each university law faculty in Poland He emphasised too, that Poland is currently the country with one of the best-rated networks of legal clinics in the world. He then gave the floor to the discussion moderator, prof Zbigniew Kuniewicz, Dean of the Law and Administration Faculty of the University of Szczecin. The panel participants, i.e. prof Leah Wortham (professor of law at The Catholic University of America in Washington), prof Frank Bloch (expert in the field of social security, one of the leaders of the international clinical movement and a co-founder of the Global Alliance for Justice Education), prof Edwin Rekosh (founder and executive director of PILnet – Global Network for Public Interest) and prof Maria Szewczyk (criminal law professor and the Law and Administration Faculty of the University of Warsaw) introduced to the gathered audience the idea of clinical education and the history of the development of the movement in the world and in Poland.
Moreover, they emphasised that traditional teaching of criminal law, international law and administrative law, based on the lecture formula should be enhanced with active methods of teaching of law, implemented in the process of student education within the scope of legal clinics. After the heated discussions the participants of joint conferences took part in a theatrical play, prepared especially for this event by Szczecin’s excellent actor – Michal Janicki. The evening was topped with a dinner party, that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Academic Legal Clinics Foundation. The foundation president, Filip Czernicki, thanked all enthusiasts and advocates of the idea of clinical education, including the Deans of Polish law faculties, who continually support the activity of academic legal clinics. The anniversary cake tasting was a must. The remaining part of the evening was spent by the accompaniment of classical music performed by a string quartet.
The third day of the conference was abundant in workshop activities. Two kinds of workshops of differing topics were conducted parallel thanks to which the conference participants could pick and choose the workshops they took part, according to their own needs and preferences. The workshops conducted in English were conveyed by: Lusine Hovhannisian, Marguerite Angelari, dr Marta Skrodzka, Atanas Politov, Vitězslav Dohnal, prof Catherine Klein, prof Leah Wortham, prof Małgorzata Król, prof David Mcquoid-Mason, Bruce Lasky, Wendy Morrish, prof José García Añón, dr Maxim Tomoszek, Magdalena Ustaborowicz, prof Arkady Gutnikov, prof Jonny Hall, dr Magdalena Olczyk, Liubou Krasnitskaya, Yuliya Khvatsik, Katarzyna Furman-Łajszczak, prof Frank Bloch, prof Edwin Rekosh and Filip Czernicki. This listing depicts the involvement in conducting the workshops by many trainers coming from different countries, different academic centres, which were joint by the idea of clinical education and free legal aid. The subjects of the meeting revolved around the models of clinical education, the popularisation of it in the name of the pro bono idea and creating the desired ethical attitudes, cooperation forms between the clinics and legal professional councils, the implementation of the ‘Street Law’ programme (aka in Poland as ‘Everyday Law’), psychological skills necessary for working in the clinics, motivational technics and student evaluation technics, academic legal aid offices and clinics’ management.
The series of workshops was crowned with a joint panel discussion between the participants of the conference and the Meeting of Polish Deans of Law Faculties. The panel discussion moderated by Filip Czernicki with the participation of prof Maria Szewczyk (Jagiellonian University), Prof Frank Bloch (Vanderbilt University Law School, USA), Prof David McQuiod-Mason (The University of KwaZulu-Natal, RPA) focused on the vision of the future of professional legal professions and new market and social challenges. The debate participants were unanimous that the reform of legal studies started 14 years before should be continued by directing the educational system towards practical teaching. Such a reform is implicated not only by the changes on the legal services market, but perhaps primarily, the changes in social needs, with which modern academic centres should correspond. It was declared beneficial and necessary to further organise conferences devoted to the subject of a legal education reform which will make possible for the discussion between the representatives of the traditional academic environment, attached to the lecture formula, and the innovative environment, coming from various academic centres located in various countries. To stand by the decision to create a specific discussion platform and to further advocate the practical approach to teaching of the new law adepts, European Network for Clinical Legal Education (ENCLE) was brought to life during the conference, as an association of legal clinics operating in Europe.
This year’s conference held in Szczecin and Świnoujście was another milestone in the development of the idea of clinical education in Poland. It was not only a forum for the exchange of views between the clinics’ representatives from all over the world, but also a base for polemics with the antagonists of the introduction of practical element to the education of lawyers. Moreover, it allowed for the formulation of de lege ferenda postulates and the establishment of ENCLE, which, beyond doubt, will play an invaluable role in the further development of legal clinics in Poland and Europe.
The event was organised thanks to the financial support of: Visegrad Fund, Academic Legal Clinics Foundation, Open Society Justice Initiative, National Council of Legal Advisers, Regional Bar Council in Szczecin, Ciroko Ltd. construction company, Regional Administrative Court in Szczecin, PwC, and SALANS. On top of these, institutional support, by covering the conference with honourable patronage, was given by: the President of the Constitutional Tribunal, prof Andrzej Rzepinski, the Minister of Justice, Mr Jaroslaw Gowin, the President of the Chief Administrative Court, prof Roman Hauser, the President of the Polish Bar Council, Andrzej Zwara, esq., the President of National Council of Legal Advisers, Mr Maciej Bobrowicz, esq., the Marshall of the West-Pomeranian Province, Mr Olgierd Geblewicz, the President of Szczecin, Mr Piotr Krzystek and the President of Świnoujście, Mr Janusz Żmurkiewicz.
On behalf of the organisers, I would like to say thank you to all Conference participants, in particular, to the trainers for excellently prepared workshops and interesting speeches. I do hope that the will, re-born during the conference, to lead the reform in the system of legal education will result in concrete changes in the education system and assert the Polish law faculties the lead position in the field of implementing modern forms of educating lawyers.