Law students support the wave of solidarity
Following the example of the students of medicine, chemistry, pharmacy, and the natural sciences, who were all actively involved in helping others, law students supported the wave of solidarity that was created within society during the time of the coronavirus.
By: CU Public Relations Office
The pandemic and its unprecedented consequences naturally caused many legal problems and issues. Several improvised student initiatives began to emerge almost immediately, and they offered free legal advice to those affected by the crisis. However, these initiatives had to be halted as students are generally not eligible or professionally qualified to properly provide legal services.
Nonetheless, these initiatives motivated the Faculty of Law to start thinking about how legal assistance could be effectively provided to those affected by the coronavirus. This is why the scope of the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre, which is part of the tuition programme at the Institute of Clinical Legal Education, was widened to include legal assistance to people who needed it in relation to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Students’ Legal Counselling Centre has been part of the educational process at the faculty since 2015 and is a part of clinical legal education (also known as legal clinics). The ambition of legal clinics is to provide a natural link between lawyers’ education and its practical application. In addition to the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre, students have the opportunity to help non-profit organizations within the Legal Clinic for the Non-profit Sector course, which the faculty provides in cooperation with the Pontis Foundation. This subject was successfully transferred into online form during the coronavirus so that the pandemic would not threaten it. For the development of verbal speech, the Legal Clinic for Communities course is very useful. Here students can bring various legal topics to an audience of selected communities. Currently there are partnerships with many primary and secondary schools, a women's prison in Nitra, a resocialization facility in Senec, a children's home in Bernolákovo, a dormitory for the homeless, and a retirement home, where students regularly give talks. The Legal Clinic for Communities had to be discontinued during the coronavirus pandemic for obvious reasons, but we believe that we will be able to continue with it in the next semester.
As part of the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre, students provide legal assistance to people who cannot afford the help of a professional lawyer. Students work on legal analyses for clients under the supervision of experienced lawyers and other experts from the faculty and the legal profession. This allows students to acquire valuable practical experience, meaning they are better prepared to pursue a career in law, and this also be useful for people who have a legal problem but do not have enough money for a lawyer.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the activities of the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre focused on legal problems resulting from the coronavirus through a public call. More than thirty students were involved in counselling and they took on about fifteen legal issues. The problems were very diverse, and because the coronavirus pandemic created an unprecedented social situation, solving them required students to be more creative and to apply more effort than with normal legal problems. For example, students of the faculty helped their counterparts from other faculties who turned to the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre with questions related to the Work & Travel programmes. Other legal issues included things like cancelled flights, package tours, involuntary stays in state quarantine facilities, employee entitlements during the pandemic, and many other areas. It is really important to highlight the active and responsible approach taken by the students. At the same time, we are grateful to the faculty leadership, especially to Dean Eduard Burda, for supporting this project as well as the development of legal clinics in general, because they are an important addition to the traditional (theoretical) subjects provided to students. Many doctoral students also participated in the activities of the Students’ Legal Counselling Centre by coordinating the handling of cases and overseeing the communication of students with lawyers and clients. Over two months, we worked at full capacity, and we are delighted that this bore fruit, as evidenced by the very positive feedback from the grateful recipients of our legal aid.
The work of students was supervised by experienced lawyers and experts from the faculty and the legal profession to ensure the quality of the centre’s outputs. In this regard, we would like to thank Stentors, Löwy & Löwy, Grand Oak Legal, Sedlačko & Partners, Kaduc & Partners, Strémy, Staněk Vetrák & Partners, Pavol Cvik—Advokát, Peter Serina, Dominik Schronk, and Mikuláš Krippel.
Zuzana Mlkvá Illýová, Director of the Institute of Clinical Legal Education, Faculty of Law, Comenius University