Present Challenges & Future Hopes – New In-House CLE Law Clinic in Vientiane, Laos

By Phetmany Luangsichampa, Vice Head of CLE, FLP, Laos National University

I am not a law professor. I studied in Manila, in the Philippines, at Miriam College for Girls, and lived there for a little over two years.  I really enjoyed it – the people are very friendly, it was good for my English, the food is good and I believe my education there was better than it would have been in Laos. It was also very good for my professional life. I am an English professor at the Faculty of Law and Poliltical Science (FLP) here in Vientiane. I came to CLE because the FLP Deans came to me – they wanted me to work in this position because I speak good English.  Whenever foreigners come to visit the CLE program here, I am called upon to talk with them. So now I have two jobs: Professor in the English Department and Vice Head of CLE at the Faculty of Law.

I knew how important law is (my father was an international lawyer) but I knew very little about CLE before I began working here. The students learn by teaching: they go to remote areas in the provinces in the North and South of Laos to practice their skills. Since I’ve started working for CLE, I have gone with the students and I learn with them.

I am excited to be involved with CLE because we challenge ourselves. When we visit the remote areas, we sleep with the villagers, there is no electricity and the water is not clean. At night, students have to prepare their lessons by candlelight! That helps us understand how people live in remote areas and how they feel.  Visiting these remote areas has been a new experience for me. I lived in a dormitory during my studies, but I have always lived in the city. It is no problem for me to travel to the provinces though; I enjoy it.

I have been at CLE almost a year now.  During this year, the program has changed because, in addition to BABSEACLE, more organisations want to work with us — such as Luxembourg Agency for Development Cooperation (Lux-Dev), the German Agency for International Development (GIZ) and Village Focus International (VFI). They asked to work with us because they want to support the students who work in the provinces teaching about trafficking, land law and other issues in our Community Teaching Clinic.  Lux-Dev also supports general CLE program activities. For example, when we went to Chiang Mai, they helped fund our trip.

Travelling To Thailand To Raise Money For Laos

Our recent visit to BABSEACLE Chiang Mai was a very important trip for us. Our plan for 2012 is to expand and add an In-house Clinic to our Community Teaching Clinic (opened in 2008, also with BABSEACLE’s help). This was an ambitious plan; it will be the first such clinic in Laos, and we needed to raise the money for it. It now costs $15,000 US a year to run the CLE office.  We needed much more: our budget is $5,000 to transform several small rooms into an office where at least 15 students will work. I think without BABSEACLE helping us to raise funds it would take a very very long time to have the additional $5,000. This is why BABSEACLE dedicated its third annual Trio for Justice to raising funds for us, for our clinic.

I myself took part in the Trio for Justice by walking 5 km and we sent a team of six law students to Chiang Mai to take part in the Trio weekend events: the CLE workshops at CMU, the Access to Justice Public Interest Fair and the race itself. Some of us walked but most of the students ran in the 10K race. We all had to raise the money to go to Thailand and enter the race, but I paid my own way, 500 THB — because when I asked people to sponsor me, I found my students had already asked the same people!

The Trio helped us all learn new skills about fund-raising. We learned to be patient and we also improved our fitness. Fitness is important when you are carrying a backpack with everything in it to go teach in a remote village. Also, while we were in Chiang Mai, we visited the clinic at CMU and our students attended workshops there on skills they will need in our clinic. In many ways, our new clinic would not be possible without our trip to Thailand and the Trio for Justice event last November.

BABSEACLE’s Success Helps Build a Clinic

On our own, we raised a little over $225. The Trio for Justice event raised over $2,500, and BABSEACLE has just told us that they will be able to support our clinic with $6,000! This is because of their work and the additional financial support they received from Freehills. Freehills (there is Freehills Foundation and Freehills Law Firm, both from Australia) have been very generous to us!

The Freehills Law Firm (Singapore Branch) helped raise money to “top up” the Trio donation and meet our proposed budget for the new clinic. The Freehills Foundation provides a grant to BABSEACLE in the form of a one-year sponsorship of a Legal Fellow for the Faculty of Law and Political Science CLE Program in the amount of $5,000 US.  And last August, the law firm sent two lawyers to help train our CLE students on the skills of interviewing and counselling during the Asia Consortium Conference.

We just started work on the building at the end of 2011, so we don’t have clients yet, but we have been training students and we are all looking forward to having a clinic with real clients.

To advertise the new clinic, we will make a brochure, post on the Internet, advertise in the newspaper, contact as many people as possible and tell our students to tell other people. We hope that everybody will be coming! We will try hard and the students will use their skills and organise their workload.  This is the first time for everyone, so we are excited, but nervous too!

I am proud of my students – they are responsible for their work and they learn from each other through teaching together.  I think this is a good thing for Laos – in the provinces they need good proper lawyers to help them.  We have good lawyers here who understand and want to help people.

In a few years, we hope to plan for more in-house clinics across Laos – everywhere there is a law school. If possible, we want to send our students to university in Thailand, and my dream is for some students to go to Australia for their Masters or PHd degrees via scholarships. They can receive great training in other countries and then come back and help those less fortunate in Laos.

We will move forward for the development of our students, the development of CLE, and the development of Laos.