Establishing and running university-based law clinics in South Africa: Four decades of challenges and lessons for South Africa, The Commonwealth and beyond

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

David McQuoid-Mason
Professor of Law and President of CLEA
University of KwaZulu-Natal

In the early 1970s the first live client law clinics were established in South Africa, and in the mid-1980s the first Street law programmes. These initiatives took root despite having been established during some of the most oppressive periods of the apartheid era. The South African experience has since influenced the development of live client clinics and Street law programmes elsewhere in African Commonwealth countries and beyond.
In the 1970s a myriad of challenges threatened the establishment of the live client clinics in South Africa and had to be overcome, such as: (a) suspicion by the Security Police that law clinics were subversive; (b) concerns that law students would give wrong advice; (c) suspicion by the law societies that law clinics would take away work from lawyers; (d) the need to attract clients and advertise the clinics; (e) the need to find suitable venues for clinic activities; (f) the need to give law students credit for work in clinics; and (g) the need to fund certain law clinic operating expenses (e.g. stationary).
Similarly, during the tumultuous mid-1980s dominated by several States of Emergency in the country, the early Street law programmes had to contend with challenges, such as: (a) getting permission from school and prison authorities to conduct lessons; (b) suspicion from school and prison administrators; (c) access to schools and prisons; (d) ensuring the safety of law clinics students; (e) accommodating Street law in the law curriculum; (f) synchronising school and prison visits with lectures; (g) obtaining academic credit for the programme; and (h) securing funding for the programme (e.g materials and transport for school and prison visits).
The paper will explore how the above challenges were overcome during the 40 year life-span of the live client clinics in South Africa and the nearly 30 years of the Street law programmes, and how these experiences have been used to expand live client and Street law programmes to Commonwealth and other countries beyond South Africa’s borders.

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