Finding a gang

Perhaps it’s fitting that my first complete post is about building networks. After all, isn’t this one of the reasons why we blog – a desire to see if there’s anyone out there that shares our dreams, our nightmares or times when we’re just indifferent?

I’m fortunate enough to work exclusively in a clinic which is fully integrated into the curriculum. During their final year, my students provide free legal advice to local businesses, entrepreneurs and not-for-profits. When I first bounded on to the clinical legal education scene, I looked for others like me. It’s normal, isn’t it, to seek out those who are already doing what you do? I wandered around conferences looking for my gang. I scoured the programmes for papers on running a legal clinic which advised businesses. I even presented a paper myself, thinking that at the end of my presentation all of the other business clinicians would come running towards me (possibly in slow motion, and with a suitable soundtrack) and we’d sit for hours sharing best practice. But it was not to be.

That was until I was speaking at the Clinical Legal Education Organisation Conference in Portsmouth last year. At the end of my update on the Legal Service Board’s plans for special bodies, I put out a desperate call:

“And if there’s anyone here who deals with businesses, please come and speak to me. I’m really keen to talk to others who supervise students who advise businesses. I’d love to speak with anyone who does that sort of work. Please let me know if you know anyone.”

After I’d finished, Patrick Cahill of Queen Mary University London, lent over to where I was sitting. He told me about qLegal, where postgraduate students provide free legal advice, workshops and resources to companies and entrepreneurs. At that time it had been running for just over a month. Patrick and I have been in regular contact since that day almost a year ago. Whilst our clinics are based on different models, we have been able to share insights, organise visits and help each other out at conferences. And sometimes it’s just good to have someone to chat to who speaks “business clinic” and doesn’t get instantly bored when you ramble on about intellectual property for the millionth time!

Which leads me on to iLINC. iLINC is a EC funded Europe-wide project designed to link ICT entrepreneurs and start-ups with law students. It is conducted by Queen Mary University of London, University of Amsterdam and KU Leuven as well as the Hans Bredow Insitute for Media Research. A further 12 institutions make up the network of clinics and incubators. I was thrilled to be asked to be part of iLINC. At the first Best Practice Sharing Event in London earlier this year my dream of meeting other business clinicians came true. Here was a whole room full of law school staff who were interested in developing clinics which would allow students to provide legal advice to the startup community. I left the two day event feeling exhilarated.

In 12 hours I will be winging my way to Amsterdam to once more meet with the members of iLINC. The programme looks excellent – visiting the University of Amsterdam clinic, meeting students, a transatlantic exchange with Brooklyn Law School, and sessions on service delivery, funding and the challenges of developing a clinic. I look forward to seeing my fellow business clinicians. They may not come running toward me to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture, but we will explore issues, learn from each other and design a vision for the future just the way I imagined.

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