India Legal Aid Clinics: Creating Service Learning Research Projects to Study Social Justice

Date01 July 2015
Published date01 July 2015
Subject MatterArticles
India Legal Aid Clinics: Creating
Service Learning Research Projects
to Study Social Justice
David W. Tushaus1
Shailendra Kr. Gupta2
Sumit Kapoor3
Law school legal aid clinics serve two main purposes. The first is to provide a better legal education to
students. The second is to provide access to justice in the community. This article will provide some
background on the importance of both of these missions. We will then discuss the results of a study
of legal aid clinics across India in 2012–13. Indian undergraduate law school students4 designed and
conducted this study under the direction of Dr Shailendra K. Gupta and Fulbright-Nehru Scholar David
Tushaus at Banaras Hindu University. The research team obtained both quantitative and qualitative data
from legal aid clinic directors for a view of the state of clinical legal education in India at this time. The
service learning process of forming the team and conducting the research is described here.
Findings show the global legal clinic movement has reached India. There are some excellent models
for clinical legal education in India and abroad. However, there is great room for improvement. Some
legal aid clinics provide excellent educational opportunities. Service learning, where students apply
their knowledge in service to the community, is more effective in teaching analytical skills and critical
thinking. Much more can be done in India’s clinics, where representation is more restrictive than in
some countries. Providing legal education in the community through various means, including specialized
advocacy, can be effective and educational. There are suggestions for reforms to improve clinical legal
education in India, from providing elective credit to allowing direct representation.
1 Professor, J.D., Fulbright-Nehru Scholar, Missouri Western State University.
2 Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, India.
3 Advocate, High Court of Uttarakhand.
4 The research team consisted of Tarun Bhowmick, Meenakshi Dutta, Abhinov Mishra, Arpit Sharma, Amit Kumar Singh, Hraday
Pratap Singh, Om Prakash Singh (secretary), Dheeraj Singhal, Varsha Srivastava and Student Coordinator and co-author of this
article Sumit Kapoor.
Asian Journal of Legal Education
2(2) 100–118
© 2015 The West Bengal National
University of Juridical Sciences
SAGE Publications
DOI: 10.1177/2322005815578509
Corresponding author:
David W. Tushaus, 204E Wilson Hall, 4525 Downs Drive, St. Joseph, MO, USA 64507.
Tushaus, Gupta and Kapoor 101
The end of all education should surely be service, and if a student gets an opportunity of rendering service
even whilst he is studying, he should consider it as a rare opportunity and treat it not really as a suspension of
his education but rather its complement.5
Mohandas K. Gandhi
Law school based legal aid clinics are an important way to teach students analytical skills, substantive
legal material and the ethical importance of providing access to justice. Access to justice and the rule
of law is critical for all members of society. Justice is important for everyone, not only to create a fair
society; but also to bring people out of poverty. ‘Making the Law Work for Everyone’, a study by the
United Nations Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (UN Commission), concludes
that ‘by expanding and deepening universal legal protection, poor people will be better able to free
themselves from poverty’. Clinical legal education can play an important role in bringing people out
of poverty by directly providing access to justice, while teaching legal knowledge, skills and the ethical
importance of helping the poor to future legal professionals.
There are many similarities and differences in how countries approach legal education and clinical
law. For example, legal and political constraints prevent law school clinics from directly representing
clients in all but Public Interest Law (PIL) cases in India. No such constraint exists in the United States
(US), where law school legal clinics will typically have state rules that allow for students to engage in
the practice of law under the supervision of an attorney. These rules vary from state to state. Student
practice rules in the US do have limits on students—cases in which they can be involved, educational
requirements and more.6
In Uganda, Legal Aid Clinics need to register themselves with the government to provide Legal
Aid. In the Kyrgyz Republic students in law school based clinics can represent individuals in civil
proceedings, which do not require a license, but not in criminal proceedings.
Previous Study
Prior to this research, a study of law school clinics in India reviewed by this research team was sponsored
by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Government of India. ‘Access to Justice
for Marginalized People: A Study of Law School Based Legal Aid Clinics’. It was published in 2011.
There are few other studies of law school clinic practices and effectiveness in India or globally.
Scholarship in many cases has tended to focus on best practices and social justice issues.7 This is
discernible from a review of the Ogilvy and Czapanskiy’s annotated bibliographies of clinical legal
education and other resources. Legal Aid: Catalyst for Social Change provides a good overview of
India Legal Clinic scholarship. There has been little research into the relationship between legal clinics
and educational theory.
The UNDP & GOI study focused on 39 law school clinics from seven states to assess the state of these
clinics in India. The study found that most law schools were complying with the requirement to have
5 M.K. Gandhi, Towards New Education, 94–95 (Bharatan Kumarappa ed., 1931).
6 Student Practice rules: Clinical Resource Guide, Online Guide, Georgetown University. Available at (last visited 12 October 2014).
7 The Global Clinical Movement (F.S. Bloch ed., 2011).

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