UCD BCL Student on her Clinical Legal Education placement with FLAC

Helen Carroll, a third year BCL Law with Social Justice student at UCD, wrote the following on her Clinical Legal Education placement with FLAC

As a third year BCL Law with Social Justice student at UCD, my interest lies in the upholding and realisation of personal rights. I took part in a one month clinical legal education placement that UCD offers students, and FLAC was my first choice on where to spend that month. Their knowledge and professionalism balanced with their down to earth nature really impressed me, and I was very excited to be taken on board as a legal intern for the month of my clinical legal placement.

FLAC has been instrumental in promoting public interest litigation and pro bono work in Ireland. They have provided free legal information and advice to the public for over 40 years. There aren’t many organisations you can call up and get legal information at no cost, as solicitor fees can be prohibitive to many people. From listening in on the phone calls that FLAC receives on a daily basis, I’ve found that so many people simply don’t know what their rights are and how to use them to their advantage. FLAC aims to educate the public and advance the rights of different communities by engaging in public interest litigation and producing publications, reports, submissions and a bulletin to help teach people of these rights.

I’ve been working on various pieces from different members in the organisation. I have compiled data on a year’s worth of clinic visits by members of the Roma community, which is an initiative aimed at this marginalised group to help them access legal information and advice. The most common queries surrounded access to housing and citizenship, but there were many different areas of law that they requested information on. It was really interesting to compile, and to try decipher the handwritten notes of the solicitor who attended the clinic!

I was also working a lot with PILA on research. I prepared small reports highlighting barriers to accessing justice for people with disabilities and members of the deaf community. I also researched best practice mechanisms in jurisdictions outside Ireland, focusing on ways to simplify court procedure, make the process more accommodating for vulnerable court users, looking into alternative methods of dispute resolution that are more informal and less costly, and utilising technology for compiling information for cases. It’s been varied and interesting but has never been overwhelmingly busy, and I’m really glad for the support that colleagues gave me.

Another aspect of the internship that I liked was that I could go down to the volunteers working on the phone line at any time and just listen in on the calls they receive. I really wanted to experience the ground-level, human element of how legislation and Government policies affected the lives of people. That was the best part of this internship in my opinion. It took things out of the theoretical atmosphere of a lecture hall and placed it in real life. The volunteers here have such a wide knowledge of the different areas of law that they commonly get calls about. Family law, court queries, consumer issues and wills and probate are very common caller concerns, but they can receive calls on pretty much anything! I’d be interested in returning next year when I’m done my course to work on the phone lines, at least for a little while whilst I prepare for FE-1s.

I’ve also had opportunities to attend events focusing on social justice and access to the law that I simply wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for FLAC. I was at the launch new FLAC report that chronicles the Foy case and was able to meet Lydia Foy herself, which was really exciting for me. She’s a fantastic speaker and a wonderful person. I’ve written essays on this case that fought for gender recognition and have researched it quite a bit, but it was something else entirely to meet the person behind it. Once again, I was able to understand the ground-level, human aspects of the case rather than just the abstract research I did from a different vantage point, and that’s what I really enjoyed.

I was also able to attend the ‘My Lawyer, My Rights – Working with Children in Conflict with the Law’ talk held by UCC in the President’s Hall in Blackhall Place. I’ve never actually been to the building before, despite being a law student! The half-day talk was fantastic, and it really opened my eyes up to the injustices and sheer difficulties faced by children who come into conflict with the law. The criminal justice system is supposed to facilitate rehabilitation of offenders and help them understand how not to get into conflict with the law again, yet there were many areas highlighted at the talk that need to be worked on, as well as suggestions on how to improve them.

I took great interest in the quality and diversity of speakers in attendance and would be very interested in doing a family law module next year at UCD. I’d previously decided in third year not to take it due to prejudices about family law being very tough emotionally on a person and because of the sheer amount of legislation and case law! Now I see the reasons for such a large body of information in that area – it’s because of the complexity of social structures and the ways inequalities and various difficulties can shape behaviour and outcomes.

I am so very grateful for the opportunity to undertake this placement with FLAC and it has given me a lot to consider and reflect on. The first-hand experience of social justice in Ireland has been invaluable and has helped solidify my plans about the future and my career. I’ve had the chance to meet judges, solicitors, barristers, and many members of other NGOs, and to discuss current issues with them. The people in FLAC have been fantastic and so supportive. The atmosphere in the workplace is really friendly and I felt so welcomed. I want to thank all of the staff for their time and help over the month, and for their commitment to realising social change and social justice in Ireland.