The first two and a half weeks of my one month with Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) have been a flurry of activity. It has been a wonderful and familiar fit. I’ve already co-led workshops for law departments at Monywa University, in Central Myanmar, Dawei University, in Southeastern Myanmar, and Yangon University Distance Education University, in Yangon and Dagon University, also in Yangon.
I am a Clinical Instructor, on “vacation” from my regular job, as Director of the Immigration Clinic, at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC), and as Clinical Instructor, at Berkeley Law School, in California. BABSEACLE’s mission statement, to “provide legal aid services and… help build the next generation of social justice, pro-bono minded champions” looks a lot like EBCLC’s dual mission of providing desperately-needed free legal services and training to the next generation of social justice lawyers. Everything feels familiar, from the hectic pace in the local BABSEACLE office, to the familial atmosphere and to everyone’s all-hands-on-deck attitude.
During my time here, I’ve helped lead workshops on mock trial, externships, and community teaching. The legal education system in Myanmar is based on class lecture, so experiential learning through clinical legal education is an area that the law teachers in Myanmar are very interested in exploring. The workshops provide an introduction to the topics and a different perspective on legal education. I’ve also had the opportunity to work more in depth with a small group of law teachers at Dagon University to help them implement their community teaching, externship, and mock trial strategic plans.
Truthfully, I’ve always had some difficulty with the idea of going to a developing country to “help” other people. I firmly believe people are the experts on their own lives. So more than anything, I see my time in Myanmar as an opportunity to share. For Myanmar legal educators to share what they are doing and thinking, and for me to share some of my experiences as a clinical instructor.
Throughout the workshop I co-led at Dagon University, I emphasized that all law schools, including Berkeley Law where I work, are engaged in this kind of self-examination. This very conversation is happening throughout the world in legal education: how can we better teach our students to be good and ethical lawyers?
And in the end, the concept of experiential learning– learning by doing vs. learning by reading– is a concept that I do think holds value in any culture.
I feel very lucky to be a part of this program and have already learned so much from the legal trainers, other international experts, the teachers, and everyone else here. I will return to my own work in the States with a new perspective and a tool bag full of new ideas.
by Linda Tam_Director of the Immigration Clinic, at the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) & Clinical Instructor, Berkeley Law School
December 15, 2015
Introduction about Linda Tam:
Linda Tam comes to Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) from Berkeley, California, where she is the Director of the Immigration Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center, a clinical program of Berkeley Law School. With a commitment to social justice work, clinical legal education, and a passion for international perspectives, Linda’s focus at BABSEACLE was working with the law teachers in Myanmar to develop their capacity in the areas of mock trial, community teaching, and externships.