Two discussions I recently had at an Italian university constituted a perspicuous proof of how much the tradition of pro bono has to do with the legal education.
What triggered my meetings with over a hundred law students was a blooming initiative of a legal clinic in the city of Turin. I was asked to introduce the concept to the future lawyers, as it is still a pioneering enterprise in the country (surprisingly enough, if you consider how much the European legal culture owes to the Romans). The approach I adopted was to explain the rationale and the challenges of the clinical adventure through the lenses of ethical dilemmas usually anticipated and often actually faced by clinical students.
The students were very enthusiastic about the clinical project and genuinely brainstormed the ethical issues. Admittedly, the first-year students interacted less but they got the message: lawyering is not (only) about books, but (also) about clients, many of whom are underprivileged in their access to justice, and it is also up to the community of lawyers to remedy the situation.
At a certain moment a professor I gave the class together with asked these fresh participants: Why did you enroll for the law studies? What are usually the reasons why an individual decides to be an avvocato? What is the viewpoint of the society at large on this? Whereas there were diverse answers to the first two questions, ranging from purely materialistic to highly missionaire, the latter issue was unequivocal to all gathered: the Italian society considers the avvocati indifferent to their service, their responsibility for the rule of law and for the access to justice to all. We received the same negative feedback on the question whether the university endeavours to sow in the students' minds and hearts the seeds of pro bono approach and, more generally, some sense of mission.
Each group of students I encountered that day, despite different studying record, was similarly immature. Their alma mater gives them only a very technical, book-oriented training, which leaves them deprived of any tools and sensitivity useful in resolving ethical issues. Often, they are not aware of the need for pro bono.
Also recently a Spanish colleague asked me how an initiative of promoting pro bono in his country can be relevant for the efforts of developing clinical programs (they have been running there for a few years). I pinpointed to the casual provision in pro bono declarations of lawyers' associations where the necessity of improving legal education is underlined (see para. 4 of the IBA Pro Bono Declaration) and argued that it must not be understood as offhand. Accordingly, I suggested that establishing cooperation between abogados and the academia is natural and should be fruitful to both. Fortunately, I have met quite some Italians who believe it as well.
University of Warsaw graduate
Pro bono activist in Poland and Italy