New Paper Identifies Challenges to Establishing Clinical Legal Education in Jordan
By Lori Atherton
Earlier this year, Clinical Prof. of Law Kimberly Thomas visited Jordan to assist two universities in setting up legal clinics as part of an American Bar Association project. The experience posed unique challenges, ones that Thomas addresses in the forthcoming article, "Learning from the Unique and Common Challenges: Clinical Legal Education in Jordan" (download a copy). The article will appear in the Berkeley Journal of Middle Eastern & Islamic Law, and is coauthored with Prof. Nisreen Mahasneh of Jordan's Yarmouk University Law School.
"There's a real opportunity and potential for educational change in Jordan," said Prof. Thomas, who worked with Yarmouk University and Jordan University
law faculty to set up their clinics. "The first clinic students I taught were nervous and excited to try something new, but felt empowered to use legal knowledge in a new way."
Clinical legal education is not significantly developed in most Arab countries, Prof. Thomas said, and academic literature on the subject is virtually nonexistent, which prompted her and Prof. Mahasneh to write the article. "We wanted the challenges of establishing clinics to be clear, and to lay a path for success," she said.
While Jordanian law schools teach substantive law, which students are expected to memorize verbatim, they fail to provide students with the legal skills and methodology necessary to be good lawyers, including negotiation, interviewing, presentation, problem solving, and research, Prof. Thomas noted. Students are expected to acquire these skills during a two-year attorney training apprenticeship, but "the feedback from graduates is that there is an overwhelming gap between what they have learned at their law schools and what occurs in their day-to-day work."
Prof. Thomas said legal clinics could help to narrow this gap in two primary ways: by providing students with a more complete education and by fulfilling a need to provide important legal aid to the community.
"There are no interactions between the universities and the community, so it's a really novel idea for students to go into the community and do legal work," Prof. Thomas said. "We wanted to provide a path for students that they aren't using, and to do more than just rote memorization."
Prof. Thomas said the biggest challenges to implementing clinical legal education in Jordan include resistance from the Jordanian Bar Association, which controls the practice of law, and from law faculty; the unpreparedness of law students to participate in clinics; lack of faculty expertise; and limited funding and resources needed to get the clinics off the ground.
Despite these challenges, Prof. Thomas is optimistic that legal clinics can bring about positive change in Jordan. "It's hard not to think about this in the larger context of the Arab Spring," she said.
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