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Clinical Legal Education in Lebanon


Support to Legal Aid in Lebanon

Clinical Legal Education in Lebanon, Models and Practices

Karim El Mufti

July 2017

Executive summary

The word ‘Clinic’ comes from the medical universe, where interns learn from observing acting doctors and can be given a certain range of responsibilities in order to learn how to deal with certain issues and problems in society. From the United States, the legal clinical models have spread to what is known in the Clinic education literature as the “Global North”, i.e. Western Europe and Australia in the 1960’s and 1970’s. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe started integrating this form of legal education within its law faculties before it also reached the “Global South”, among which the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) at the beginning of the 21st Century.

Among Clinical Legal Education (CLE) defenders lies a common understanding that traditional teaching methods of the law were inoperative given the lack of preparedness graduates would face when embracing lawyering carriers. As such, problem-solving of legal mazes and tangled situations is among the core pedagogical goals sought by Legal Clinics in all its variance of models and structures, be it in-house or externship or hybrid types of CLE. Connecting students to concrete situations hence enables them to burst their personal protective bubbles and exit their family and social cocoons in order to engage local communities, understand societal issues and problems and become defenders of social justice and public service.

In the MENA region, Lebanon has followed the tracks of countries like Palestine, Egypt and Jordan in incorporating CLE as of 2007 to reform its traditional and rigid teaching curricula. Among its seven law faculties in seven different universities, Lebanon has experienced the emergence of four different types of Legal Clinics, in the University of Holy Spirit of Kaslik (USEK) as of 2007, in La Sagesse University (ULS) as of 2007, in the Saint-Joseph University in 2011 and within the Beirut Arab University as of 2012. Each of these unique configurations within the Lebanese legal education system has enableed students to “learn by doing” and built a significant legal professional experience ahead of graduating from Law School, that has developed into an important element of the Law Faculties’ motto and teaching goals.

From the existing Legal Clinics in the Lebanese Law Faculties, two have incorporated the concept as a full course, whether mandatory like in ULS HRLC or an elective like in USEK Legal Clinic. These Clinics can rely on a well established and deeply rooted civil society, whether they run under an in-house or externship models, which allows for a greater involvement of students in legal aid activity with the relevant stakeholders and a direct access to the persons seeking justice, generally coming from underprivileged communities.

Since the establishment of Legal Clinics in Lebanon has been relying primarily on international support and funding, this aspect is often seen as an obstacle for the setting up of Legal Clinics that requires a certain number of fundamental investments to function properly. The four acting Legal Clinics have each dealt with the sustainability challenge in its own fashion and in line with its own objectives and model. As such, the strong engagement of the believers of CLE in Lebanese faculties has fostered new avenues for modern teaching methods of legal disciplines in the country. At the same time, all four active Legal Clinics have contributed in enhancing legal aid services to targeted underprivileged audiences, either directly such as the USJ and the BAU structures, or indirectly through the USEK and ULS models.

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