Designing innovative clinical legal programs to respond to changing social needs


My argument is that Japanese law schools are urged to flexibly design innovative clinical programs to respond to changing social needs so as to maximize the educational effect for law students. As globalization progresses and technological innovations advance, our world is becoming more complex, unstable, and unpredictable. In this era, people in economic needs are more susceptible to uncertainty. They are more likely to confront unexpected hardship and less likely to afford to retain their attorney even if required.

Some countries have their national legal aid programs in operation under their national statutes. This type of system is relatively rigid and less flexible, and sometimes not good at addressing new types of legal problems. For example, in Japan, we have a national legal aid program, Hoterasu, funded by the government. The targeted fields of the program are fixed by the law and other national regulations. On March 11, 2011, an unprecedented huge earthquake and tsunami hit the northern part of Japan, and many of the victims fell into utmost difficulties for the needs, including legal aids right after the disaster. However, Ho-terasu was not able to expand its services for a free legal consultation to those people affected by this disaster until after April 2012 because it took time to amend the relevant laws. In addition to this, although arbitration is now acknowledged as an effective alternative dispute resolution in Japan, people who hope to use arbitration cannot rely on the program of Ho-terasu. As these examples show, the Japanese national legal aid system is not yet perfect. On the other hand, clinical legal education is free from restrictions of national regulations. This trait should be recognized as one of the hallmarks of legal clinics. Clinical legal programs have inherently the potential to be designed for a more flexible platform to dramatically improve access to justice for socially vulnerable people. Throughout this article, I will explore what type of clinical legal programs are truly needed in our changing society, focusing on the flexibility of clinical legal education. Creating client interest-oriented programs also maximizes student learning outcomes in clinical legal education. Students’ motivation for their participation is maximized, and they can obtain basic legal skills required as a legal professional in the most effective manner, especially when a law student can feel the importance of herself and necessity as a legal professional.

In Part II of this article, I will examine examples of how clinical legal education has actually functioned as a social infrastructure in society in the U.S. where this pedagogy developed. Every program that I will introduce here was designed to respond to actual clients’ needs at the U.S. law schools. These opportunities enabled law students to effectively acquire legal skills, sense of responsibility, and ethics required as a legal practitioner.

In Part III, I will share two successful achievements of the clinical legal programs at Waseda Law School: Sports Law Program and International Human Rights Program. Both programs were uniquely created as a client-centered program outside of the scope of the existing national legal aid. In the last Part, I will discuss the future of the clinical legal education required in the Japanese educational settings in the light of successful examples explained in this article, and make concluding remarks.

Shiraki, Atsushi, Designing Innovative Clinical Legal Programs to Respond to Changing Social Needs (June 30, 2021). Waseda Bulletin of Comparative Law,
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