The idea of the legal clinics program concerns establishment of the legal clinics at the Faculties of Law and Administration, where the students, under the supervision and substantial help of the faculty teachers and practitioners, provide free of charge legal advice for poor members of the community.
The Polish Legal Clinics Foundation has been operating since 2002. It supports and coordinates a network of 25 legal clinics and promotes pro bono engagement of lawyers. Every year there are almost 2000 students, 350 academics involved in work in the clinics. All together they provide legal advice in almost 12 000 cases involving poor and socially excluded people.
One of the main goals of the program is to provide legal aid to poor members of the community. It is a very important social mission and also a way to enlighten students on the public service aspect of the legal profession. Introduction to the social problems increases awareness and sensibility for the poverty and human rights violation problems in the society.
Another important goal is the improvement of the law students’ education process through the contact with not only theory, but law in practice as well - relations with clients and their problems. It is a perfect combination of instructive education and obtaining practical abilities.
The program is thus addressed to the law students and the law teachers but on the other hand - to the weakest social groups such as: unemployed, homeless, retired, handicapped, crime victims, women with difficult situation, foreigners, refugees.
The program involves the individuals and the entire legal and academic society in working with the poorest people, often left on the margin of the social life. It also fulfills the basic needs concerning free access to justice.
The main achievements of the Foundation
Building the position, image and the formal framework for the clinics and the Legal Clinics Foundation:
- very quick and effective incorporation of the Foundation itself,
- constructing and integrating a network of legal clinics in Poland,
- the instigation of a feeling of unity among the clinics,
- legal clinics are presented in the mass-media ever more often through interviews and reports from the various projects,
- cooperation is tightened between the legal clinics and nongovernmental organizations, and legal clinics become permanently inscribed in that sector (although they do not directly belong to it),
- in a very short time the Foundation gained a strong position among the nongovernmental organizations (a leader of the Nongovernmental Advisory Platform and member of the Board of the Polish NGO Federation),
- obtaining of letters of support from the President of the Bar Council and the President of the Council of Legal Advisers,
- conducting few sessions dedicated to legal clinics during the Conventions of Deans of Polish Law Faculties,
- institutionalization and tightening of cooperation with the Ombudsman (re-newed cooperation agreement has been signed in 2016),
- raising and enforcing operational standards among all (!) legal clinics (in the year 2003 nearly all legal clinics signed civil liability insurance agreements, whereas in the year 2002 only two clinics had such an insurance!),
- assisting in drafting new law on access to free legal aid (participating in a team called by the Ministry of Justice to develop the law on legal assistance as well as participating in a similar team called by the President of the Republic of Poland);
Projects carried out:
- the members of the Board visited all clinics in existence in Poland several times, holding repeated meetings with representatives of clinics and university authorities,
- organization of the first convention of legal clinics representatives in December 2002 under the auspices of the Foundation,
- organization of several international conferences dedicated to the clinical education (first in November 2002),
- organization twice a year a National Legal Clinics Conference (First Polish Legal Clinics Conference was held in Kazimierz in October 2003),
- conducting each year the Polish "Lawyer pro bono" Competition,
- piblishing 17 manuals and textbooks dedicated to legal clinics among them publishing first in Poland and in the region legal clinics manual;
- obtaining support from the Stefan Batory Foundation which allowed to conduct the cyclical regranting competitions for clinics,
- as a result of efforts of the Foundation, the European Law Students' Association ELSA Poland, which is the legal owner of part of the clinics' equipment (on the basis of a subsidy it obtained over the past years from the Stefan Batory Foundation), has undertaken to formally transfer that equipment to the clinics (universities),
- clinics from 12 cities will received computer equipment of considerable value from the Ministry of Justice,
- the Baker & McKenzie law firm donated computers to legal clinics in Poland, which were adjudicated to the two most needing clinics as a result of a competition,
- the Polskie Wydawnictwa Profesjonalnie publishing house donated LEX Omega software, which was given to a clinic after a competition,
- the Linklaters international law firm decided to delegate its five lawyers to pro bono work in a clinic,
- the Wydawnictwo C.H. Beck publishing house donates each year sets of legal information software (sets of laws with commentaries) to all legal clinics in Poland.
The total value of the financial means, equipment and computer software donated and contracted by the Legal Clinics Foundations to the legal clinics amounted to 597 855,20 PLN (equal to 160,000 USD).