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20 October 2020

New Clinics in Human Rights & Environment and Intellectual Property

Q&A with King’s Legal Clinic Assistant Directors

King's Legal Clinic students

‘We are aiming to fill the gaps where there is otherwise no access to justice.'

Sue Willman, King's Legal Clinic Assistant Director

What do Amnesty International and a London based start-up have in common? They are just two of the many clients that King’s Legal Clinic has advised since opening its doors in 2017.

King’s Legal Clinic works to enhance the education of our law students and promote social and economic justice. Students work under the guidance of qualified lawyers to provide pro bono work in support of a wide range of clients, offering free legal advice to those in need. The Clinic continues to grow and now runs six specialist advice clinics.

Following a pilot phase, two of these clinics officially launched this academic year. One has a focus on Human Rights & Environment and the other centres on Intellectual Property advice.

We spoke to Assistant Directors, Sue Willman and Veronica Barresi, to learn more about their work, ambition for the Clinics and for the students whose work they supervise at King’s.

The Legal Clinic reflects King’s ethos of service to society. Do you find that students are drawn to the Clinic because of the way it allows them to help the wider community?

SW: Almost all our module clinic students this year mentioned the desire to give back to the community as a reason for joining the Legal Clinic’s module programme for third year students. Others emphasised social and environmental justice. It’s a bonus that at the same time they are gaining employability skills and legal education which informs their academic learning.

VB: The straight answer is yes, although - I would say - it is the combination of several factors that make the Clinic’s experience so attractive to students. First and foremost, the Legal Clinic is about real clients, their stories and the rights they seek to protect. Our students are very engaged and keen to serve the wider community. Working at the clinic goes beyond helping clients. Students are also attracted to the possibility of testing themselves with challenging legal issues and projects.

What advice do you think the Intellectual Property clinic will be called upon to provide? Is there a particular issue that is prevalent at the moment?

VB: You would be amazed to discover how many original ideas are out there! Our clients are small businesses and individuals who seek advice on how their creative projects could be legally protected. Although it is a well-known principle that IP rights cannot protect ideas as such, clients often seek advice on which aspects of their start-up businesses - say a new software or piece of technology – could attract IP protection. They then find out that other aspects might be protected and what they should do. For example, they might have to register their brand or their new designs. We frequently get straightforward trade mark registrability enquiries as well as clients seeking copyright protection for their creative works such as photographs, music or publications. Working at the IP Clinic helps students to apply IP law ‘in practice’ and develop commercial awareness. They also become more familiar with the world of business and entrepreneurship. In supporting IP clients, students are empowered to contribute and foster innovation, creativity, and – in my opinion - ultimately economic justice because the Clinic ensures all these projects get the protection they are entitled to.

The Human Rights and Environment Clinic has recently worked on a case defending indigenous communities threatened by climate change in Colombia; what’s it like to know that the work taking place in Clinic can have such far reaching impact?

SW: Clinic students have been inspired to be involved in cases which have a wider impact, whether advising Amnesty in the UK about data rights or communities defending the environment abroad, like those in Colombia. But equally important is advice to individuals which can turn their lives around. We are aiming to fill the gaps where there is otherwise no access to justice.

Client confidentiality is essential in the Clinic’s work, but, if you could work with anyone in the world, who would your fantasy Legal Clinic client be?

SW: For me it would be, Nnimmo Bassey, the Nigerian writer, environmentalist and architect. In his poem ‘Mobilise…Resist.….Change,’ he calls on all ‘friends not foes of the earth to mobilise, resist and transform’ all forms of environmental injustice. At great risk to himself and despite imprisonment Bassey has stood up against the practices of multinational corporations and the environmental devastation they leave behind. He describes the lives of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta who are ‘born, live and buried in oil’, as described in We Thought It Was Oil but It Was Blood. The Human Rights and Environment Clinic offers a chance to work with environmental activists and innovators like Nnimmo to advise on legal remedies, raise awareness and support their struggle for climate justice.

VB: Yes, the Legal Clinic and its staff and students observe confidentiality and data protection rules very strictly. But…as you asked, it is not even a fantasy client it is a real one: the Clooney Foundation for Justice.

What advice would you give to a student looking to gain pro bono experience?

SW: This year, King’s Legal Clinic has been overwhelmed with applications to support our pro bono work. Although we don’t yet have capacity to accept everyone, we will advertise future opportunities either in the Legal Clinic or in other organisations via our internal student pages (KEATS) and our Twitter feed @kcllegalclinic. It’s always worth looking at advice centres and small NGOs providing advice and access to justice. And students should watch out for the Climate Justice Pledge moot launch on 17 November.

VB: In the legal sector, there are plenty of opportunities around for students to do pro bono especially in London - from Citizen Advice Bureaus to Law Works Clinics. In my view university run Legal Clinics offer a ‘one stop’ chance to gain an unmatched fulfilling experience. At King’s, I would recommend students choose the clinical legal education module and, of course, don’t miss working on an IP case: there aren’t many law schools with IP Clinics and you will thoroughly enjoy it. Finally, speak to students who have been involved in the Clinic: they will tell you it is one of the best things they ever did!

In this story

Sue Willman

Assistant Director of King's Legal Clinic and Lecturer in Law (Education)