A rapidly expanding form of legal education based on practical training and social justice was the subject of the Clinical Legal Education Thailand Workshop conducted at Chiang Mai University this week.

Legal scholars from throughout Thailand and various Southeast Asian universities met to discuss the development of legal clinics in which students improve their practical legal skills, legal knowledge, and social ethic, by working directly with their community to provide legal assistance, awareness and empowerment.

Dr. Panarairat Srichaiyarat, director of the Chiang Mai University Legal Consultation Centre which co-ordinated the workshop, said “the workshop was a great success; we have built an informal network of Thai university clinics that instil in students legal ethics, social responsibility, responsibility for clients, and motivation to work for disadvantaged people.”

“Clinical Legal Education provides all components of legal education at the same time – while providing legal service to poor clients or teaching law in a disadvantaged community, students learn legal provisions and practical legal skills,” she said, “it is important that law students understand the difference between the law on paper and the law in reality: its effect on real people, ” Dr. Srichaiyarat said.

Students working in the Chiang Mai University Legal Consultation Centre give legal information to disadvantaged members of society that do not know their rights.

Bruce Lasky, the co-director of the Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative which assisted in facilitating the workshop, said “we hope that universities across the region will continue to create and expand clinics that not only develop the skills of students but provide free legal aid and education services for their local communities.”

“Another aim of clinical education is also to help students build an ethic of public service and social justice that they will carry with them for the rest of their careers,” Mr. Lasky said.

Legal clinics can take various forms, including specialty clinics, street clinics, dispute resolution, community outreach, and community education.

In Thailand, legal education is primarily lecture-based, whereas university clinics use interactive methods that eventually result in more competent and ethical lawyers.

Visiting professors from Thailand, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China presented the advances they have made in clinical education methods and discussed future plans and opportunities.