Title: Tapping into the transformative power of justice education – the story of Street Law at the Law Society of Ireland
Lead Presenter: Freda Grealy
Session Abstract: The Street Law Clinic at the Law Society of Ireland is run with trainee solicitors (lawyers) in collaboration with Georgetown University and others and is currently in its fifth year. The Law Society of Ireland is the educational, representative and regulatory body of the solicitors’ profession in Ireland, and currently the exclusive provider of training programs for solicitors. From this unique perspective Street Law has provided a number of positive outcomes as it aligns with our mission to promote access to legal education and the law, public outreach and promoting a positive image of solicitors in the community. The positive nature of the trainee solicitor experience is highlighted by the increasing numbers of applicants annually, as well as feedback in final evaluations. Our trainees consistently recognise the impact Street Law has on their personal and professional development. Our findings indicate that Street Law can have a potentially transformative effect and leads to an increased commitment to pro bono and a heightened sense of positive professional identity amongst trainees and an awareness of their civic duty as lawyers. It fosters an ethic of public service in trainee solicitors and demonstrates to them the positive contribution they can make to their community. Social justice is at the heart of Street Law and the expansion of our Street Law Clinic aims to embrace this ethos through a number of collaborations with marginalised community groups such as the prison law programme for young detainees in Wheatfield Prison and our work with Mercy Law Resource Centre, a homeless charity. In addition, the success of Street Law has led to wider appeal amongst practising solicitors who see it as an opportunity to volunteer their expertise in their community and discharge their own sense of civic duty. This year we will pilot a programme designed for qualified solicitors. The Street Law programme empowers trainees through a unique intensive induction weekend that aims to build ‘belief, capacity and community’ within the Street Law group. The multifaceted educational approach has been shown to have short and medium term social benefits, for trainees, the participants (school children, prisoners) and for the professional body and the impact of this will be discussed and detailed. In addition, the various programmes play a valuable role in socialising those from disadvantaged communities to the wider role of lawyers in society, to the concept of a more diverse legal profession, and demonstrating potential pathways to a career in law.
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