The EU Clinic is the result of a partnership between New York University School of Law and HEC Paris (Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales de Paris). By building upon the American law clinic model and adapting it to the specificities of the EU institutional system, it is the first clinic devoted to experimenting with the various channels of participatory democracy existing within the EU. Through lobbying, advocacy, and legal research the EU Clinic promotes democratic, transparent and accountable EU institutions.
The Clinic brings together selected law students from both NYU Law School and HEC Paris and sees them working directly for NGOs operating in the EU policy field. The students are supported by a range of experienced and highly respected academics and practitioners who work with the Clinic on a pro bono basis to advance the goals of the client NGOs.
Students are given the opportunity to play an active and important role in on-going policy processes and advocacy campaigns concerning some of the most pressing issues facing the EU, its 28 Member States and its 500 million inhabitants. In so doing, students help NGOs give voice to the often-underrepresented public interest in the complex supra-national EU policy process.
Our 2015 cohort at the European Parliament:
Like most law clinics, all across the globe, the Clinic pursues two central missions: an educational mission and a social justice mission. The educational mission is to expose students to the reality of being a practicing public interest lawyer in the unique context of EU policy-making. Meanwhile, the social justice mission is threefold, including: a) to promote participatory democratic practices within the EU institutional framework; b) to represent the public interest within the EU by supplementing the advocacy capacity of European NGOs; and c) to promote a culture of collaborative pro bono amongst our American and European students and our growing clinical network of European practitioners and academics.
Beyond these central missions, we also have core learning outcomes or ancillary missions that arise from the context of the Clinic. These include:
Promoting familiarity and comfort with EU law and policy research;
Promoting familiarity and comfort with – and fluency in – multi-jurisdictional and multilingual legal research;
Promoting skills related to communication and relationship management;
Promoting soft skills related to advocacy and communications (e.g. stakeholder mapping, blog writing, communications strategy planning, using social media, drafting advocacy related emails etc.);
Promoting intercultural collaboration and understanding;
Promoting a common sense and creative approach to legal research and writing, rooted in the real world (transcending the universe of legal knowledge and practice); and
Generally equipping students with the array of complementary competencies increasingly required from lawyers, who are expected to act not only as technical experts, but also as wise counsellors, and effective leaders.
Ultimately, we aim to provide our students with skills that will be beneficial to them in international Big Firm practice (where most are headed) and also to introduce them to soft skills and experiences that might broaden their horizons with respect to their concept of legal practice and lawyer roles.
The EU Clinic takes inspiration from a model of public interest law that was first pioneered by Ralph Nader in the 60s and 70s. These public interest lawyers were, unlike their forefathers (such as the NAACP or the NCCL (now Liberty)), less concerned with providing legal services to marginalized populations or representing their interests within the legal system. Rather, they saw themselves as “citizen representatives” (or citizen lobbyists), taking aim at the Kafkaesque inaccessibility and opaqueness of various US governmental bureaucracies and the corporations they were mandated to regulate. The goal was to open up these agencies by enhancing public awareness and promoting the engagement of citizen groups and organizations (e.g. consumer groups) in the decision-making process via lobbying and litigation.
The EU Clinic takes this tried and tested brand of public interest lawyering and updates it for the modern technological age in which public interest lawyering takes place not only in physical courtrooms but in the courtroom of public opinion that constantly unfolds on the internet and in news media.
The EU Clinic also seeks to apply this model of public interest law to the EU institutional and policy context. As as a result of the growing sophistication and complexity of the EU machinery, its attendant intangibility for the average EU citizen, the increasing role played by the EU institutions in regulating various aspects of the daily lives of Europeans and the expansion of well financed lobbying activity within the EU policy process, the EU citizenry are in desperate need of their own “citizen representatives”. This is necessary to ensure that citizens are aware of when and how the EU or EU lobbyists impact on their lives and also to guarantee that citizens have some way to voice their interests in the halls of power in Brussels and Luxembourg.
While citizens often lack the knowledge, organisation and power to make themselves heard within the EU policy process, NGOs often lack the skills and resources to effectively advocate for the interests of their European constituents. Too often policymaking resembles a David and Goliath contest, in which corporate interests hire Goliath and the public interest lies in the hands of David.
Against this background context, the EU Clinic seeks to lessen the gap between the EU institutions on the one hand and the EU public on the other by supporting NGOs to effectively advocate for the public interest in Europe. We believe that this process-oriented vision of justice, which consists in enhancing mechanisms and channels of democratic participation while promoting good legal practices, may ultimately not only encourage active citizen engagement among our students but also promote an active citizenry more broadly. To this end, we rely upon a growing network of pro bono consultants, who share our values and are willing to share their expertise and experience with our students.
The Clinic provides its students with an uncommon perspective on EU lawyering, which is taught as a complex process in which lawyers are called upon to take action in the midst of unbalanced, often polarized, public policy debates, in which not all interests are equally represented. It is against this backdrop that the core focus of the Clinic is on the different avenues enabling citizens not only to gain access to the EU decision-making process but also to ‘lobby for good’ through the analysis, critique and support of legislative and regulatory proposals. For instance, the Clinic has been involved in writing to EU officials, submitting a complaint to the EU Ombudsman, requesting access to documents from the institutions, proposing new initiatives through the launch of European Citizens’ Initiatives, and more.
Taking leave from the institutional context rather than from a particular issue-based vision of social justice, the Clinic engages in various policy areas, ranging from public health to consumer protection, as well as in more horizontal issues, such as institutional openness, judicial transparency, interest representation and open data.