Institutionalizing a Social Justice Mission for Clinical Legal Education: Cross-National Currents from India and the United States

134 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2005

See all articles by M. R. K. Prasad

M. R. K. Prasad

V.M. Salgaocar College of Law India

Date Written: November 2005


Clinical law teachers around the world have been debating the future of a social justice mission for clinical legal education at the same time that many clinical programs have increased their emphasis on professional skills training. This paper examines a unique opportunity in India today to merge these sometimes competing goals by institutionalizing social justice-based clinical legal education at all Indian law schools. It also traces certain influences the US clinical movement has had on this development.

Over the past forty years, clinical legal education has struggled over where to place its primary emphasis: providing students with the skills training needed to improve lawyer competence or engaging them in supervised high-quality public service. Although public service remains an important part of clinical legal education in both India and the US, professional skills training has begun to overtake social justice as the defining mission of clinical legal education - particularly in the US. The social justice mission remains comparatively strong in India in part because there has been a long-standing effort to involve law schools in a national legal aid scheme, but the goal of establishing law school-based legal aid programs at the national level remains largely unachieved.

The stage is set now in India to implement a social justice-based clinical curriculum that would give formal sanction to the effort to link legal aid and legal education reform, and would move India beyond clinical legal education's traditional dilemma in a way that could prove instructive for the rest of the world. The Bar Council of India has mandated a set of four practical papers that require the teaching of a variety of lawyering skills and a certain level of legal aid work. Moreover, the Law Commission of India recently endorsed the idea of introducing a professional skills curriculum drawing on an American Bar Association task force report (the MacCrate Report).

A critical look at the MacCrate Report and its relevance to Indian legal education suggests the importance of different values and additional skills needed to secure these values in a meaningful way. A few examples of current clinical projects in India demonstrate how the four practical papers mandated by the Bar Council can be used to instill in law students, and thus in new lawyers, those fundamental values and skills needed to transform the legal profession in India. These examples also show that, at least for the time being, this can be achieved without major changes in the present setup of law schools and without significant additional financial support from either government or private organizations. But more is needed to fully institutionalize social justice-based clinical legal education in India and for Indian society to obtain the benefits of a reformed legal profession, including financial and intellectual support from the bench, the bar, and the government.

Keywords: legal education, legal aid, social justice, clincial, legal education

Suggested Citation

Prasad, M. R. K., Institutionalizing a Social Justice Mission for Clinical Legal Education: Cross-National Currents from India and the United States (November 2005). NYLS Clinical Research Institute Paper No. 05/06-6; Vanderbilt Public Law Research Paper No. 05-39. Available at SSRN: or

M. R. K. Prasad (Contact Author)

V.M. Salgaocar College of Law India ( email )

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