Western Europe: Last Holdout in the Worldwide Acceptance of Clinical Legal Education

Richard J. Wilson, American University Washington College of Law


Clinical legal education has achieved widespread acceptance throughout the world, growing by leaps and bounds during recent decades in countries like Russia and China, and expanding rapidly in other areas of Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. It is, arguably, the most significant innovation in legal education since the “invention” of the Socratic-case method in the United States, at the turn of the 20th Century. There is, however, one geographic area where the philosophy and methodology of clinical legal education has been resisted. That area is Continental Western Europe (the UK has some clinics, though not widespread). This article examines the reasons for resistance to clinical theory and practice as part of law school curricula in Western European law schools. Some of that resistance lies in history and structure of legal education and the legal profession, particularly the organization and power of the law school professoriate. The article further suggests that the Bologna process of European integration in all fields of education may provide opportunities for innovation in clinics through law school curricular reform. The doctrinal area of international human rights law and practice may provide further inroads into that resistance.