By Prof Douglas L. Colbert, Maryland University, Francis King Carey School of Law, USA

The invitation from Bruce and Wendy came packaged with their irresistible charm and passion for justice.

Come to Chiang Mai, they said. Help create the first university-sponsored Pretrial Justice Project in Thailand. Plant the same idea at law schools in other Southeast Asia countries where an accused remains in jail waiting for trial without having seen a lawyer. Spend your summer working with a talented group of volunteer students, lawyers and professors on clinic projects like this one.

They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

For nearly a decade, Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) has provided an international link for the law school community to demonstrate how clinical education enhances the educational experience of students preparing to join their country’s bar, while also reinforcing the lawyer’s professional value of serving marginalized communities.

I first met co-directors Bruce Lasky and Wendy Morrish at a Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) conference in Manila in 2008. I attended their class, which of course relied on interactive teaching, and Wendy “volunteered” me to draw a map of Southeast Asia. Responding to my mild protest (“I cannot draw“) and definite concern with placing the countries correctly, Wendy asked, “So what will you do, Doug, since YOU cannot draw and may not know locations?” Thank you, Wendy, I get it.

I reached out for help by calling upon my Filipino colleague who knew the area and who would have received an “A” for constructing an acceptable map. Thus began my learning the BABSEACLE way: collaborative, interactive, collective, prepared, organized and fun teaching.

Working with Interns

I have only just completed my first week here, but already I appreciate the valuable lessons that BABSEACLE’s talented staff brings to every assignment. Wendy and Bruce attract an unusual collection of interesting, highly motivated and committed student interns, teaching fellows, lawyers and experienced teachers (like my U.S. clinic colleague, Lisa Bliss). This summer’s student group includes representatives from Thailand, Viet Nam, Singapore, Laos, Sweden, Canada and the U.S. They work on a variety of projects  –Bruce and Wendy instill an excellent work ethic and teach the invaluable lawyer skill of juggling many balls at the same time — and learn the importance of brainstorming, organization, creativity, plan-ning, keeping promises and completing work on time.

Pretrial Justice Project

I have been fortunate to be working with a terrific and engaged Pretrial Justice team. We have had rich, forthright discussions filled with students’ alarm at learning that an accused poor person stands a good chance of remaining incarcerated before having had a trial or been found guilty. Student interns and fellows interviewed practicing lawyers and observed court proceedings; they gained appreciation for a lawyer’s advocacy and able representation. Students meet, exchange emails and share collected information. Already, we have information about Nigeria’s and Afghanistan’s pretrial justice/detention clinics (we await replies from other countries) that we can present to faculty, are familiar with Thailand’s and Laos’ right to counsel and bail law, and are developing a detailed lesson plan that will allow us to make an informed, energizing, skill- and value-based presentation to law school and bar audiences. Soon we will travel to universities in the region and initiate conversations for extending clinical education programs to their students and legal services to the unrepresented.

BABSEACLE’s Pretrial Justice Project is familiar work. For the past 14 years, my Access to Justice Clinic students at the University of Maryland have interviewed, counseled and advocated for pretrial detainees who had no lawyer when deprived of liberty prior to trial. Law students gained valuable lawyer skills while bringing the attention of the legal community to a reality they had been unaware of: the lack of representation for low-income defendants.

Being Part of the BABSEACLE Family

Now BABSEACLE comes along and offers the unique opportunity of joining the international clinic community, becoming a better teacher, learning interactively with volunteers from many countries, adding to law schools’ curricula, and promoting people’s access to social justice in Southeast Asia. Add the excellent food, wonderful and hospitable people, and you, too, might find yourself here very soon. That would make the BABSEACLE community very happy.