Clinic, CLE, and PLE

If you follow law on Twitter, you’ll likely have seen a…lively discussion on the merits of a new McKenzie Friends registry. I don’t intend to get into that discussion- I don’t know nearly enough- but the involvement of two HEIs does lead to one of my thesis topics:

is clinical legal education a form of public legal education?

Certainly legal aid has been described as taking on the role of PLE, back when it was well funded. The post LASPO legal aid system, in particular cuts to funding, is mentioned as one reason for reviving efforts at PLE. People are now not getting PLE via the advice given in legal aid supported cases.

Legal aid as PLE is what we might call PLE by proxy. The aim of legal aid is of course to enable people to vindicate their rights, but in the process they might gain a better understanding of the law in the area of their case. This is a form of ‘just in time’ learning (1)- knowledge acquired at the time of need, as opposed to ‘just in case’ knowledge acquired without a specific issue in mind.

Clinical legal education, in particular law clinics, can be seen as a similar form of ‘just in time’ PLE. PLE is not the aim of the clinic, usually, but it can be a beneficial outcome. Planning for PLE would enable clinics to function more effectively as sites of PLE.

Streetlaw is the main example of a clinical approach which has PLE as its main aim, and is a form of ‘just in case.’ Whilst the topics are relevant to the audience, there is not a pressing legal issue to be dealt with at the time. The main problem with Streetlaw is it of necessity focuses on a particular audience and topic, and whilst PLE is its aim, it must also deliver on pedagogy and student experience.

There has been work in which law students created teaching materials for schools (2) and this could be extended by linking the kind of cases that come into clinics to the help materials prepared.

Oh, OK, on the McK Friends thing? Seems like an OK idea, poorly executed, and driven by a hazy commitment to ‘entrepreneurship.’ It’s not the answer.


(1) see 

(2) (2016) Dawn Watkins & Maribel Canto-Lopez ‘Working with law students to develop legal literacy materials’ The Law Teacher, 50:2, 195-208

3 thoughts on “Clinic, CLE, and PLE”

  1. Hi Pete.

    Alongside their legal casework, my students frequently go out into the community and deliver workshops/seminars. Sometimes this is in response to a particular (and often urgent) query by a particular group. For example, we ran a workshop on branding for an organisation supporting women in the creative industries, after a few of their members were on the receiving end of some rather nasty IP letters. On other occasions, the students have chosen to run sessions on issues that have come up frequently in their casework. We also have our student-led blog providing information on business law related issues (

    I’m interested in your comment about Streetlaw, particularly where you say “The main problem with Streetlaw is it of necessity focuses on a particular audience and topic, and whilst PLE is its aim, it must also deliver on pedagogy and student experience.” I may have read this wrong – are you saying that mixing PLE, pedagogy and student experience is problematic? For me, that’s the beauty of clinic – we can provide a free service to the public, whilst supporting students’ development (professionally, personally, academically etc.).

    Anyway, this has turned into a much longer comment than I anticipated. Fascinating stuff. And, for the record, I agree on the McK Friend issue. My concern is for the law students who might be tempted to join this scheme. With any legal work, students need and deserve quality supervision from an experienced practitioner.



  2. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂 Not problematic, no, but perhaps limiting. The range of work you are doing looks really interesting. My concern – and the research will see if it is borne out- is that CLE is seen as PLE, and it restricts PLE to student work. That work is valuable, but there is so much more which could be done by academics (and students) outside of the clinic environment,


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