Playing the Wild Card

Representing real clients on a professional programme

Nigel Duncan

Professor of Legal Education, City University London

Students training to be barristers learn procedural law, professional ethics and practice skills through conventional tutorials and simulations. They are offered opportunities to do pro bono work advising and representing real clients. In addition, at City, they may choose one of three Options where they work with a charity providing free legal services. The Free Representation Unit  enables the representation of clients in employment tribunal cases and in social security cases. The National Centre for Domestic Violence  supports victims of domestic violence in preparing cases for the courts.

Our students become accredited by FRU or NCDV and then take on work with real clients. With FRU this involves full representation in one of more tribunal case. With NCDV it involves a client conference leading to the preparation of witness statements and the formal documents necessary to bring a claim in the courts. They receive supervision and support from FRU or NCDV and academic staff at City. Our approach seeks to develop professional identity (Sullivan et al, 2007, ch 4) and is informed by the proposals of Stuckey et al, 2007, pp 198-205.

I will present work in progress on a research project exploring these students’ values, their experience of working with real clients and their developing understanding of their and their clients’ own emotional responses. To date students have participated in a pre-experience survey and focus group. As I write this abstract a post-experience survey is open and a post-experience focus group is planned for 15 June. The expression ‘wild card’ comes from a student description of these options in the focus group.

Key words:

Clinical legal education; experiential learning; professional values; student well-being;