While focusing on marginalized groups in need of equality and legal representation, the Clinics for Law and Social Change at the University of Haifa’s Faculty of Law are taking empowerment well beyond that. As Academic Director of the legal clinics, Dr. Tammy Harel Ben-Shahar has defined a broader mission statement. She recently joined the Faculty having completed post-doctoral fellowships at Columbia Law School and NYU School of Law. “Our clinics work to heighten equality and protect rights for minorities, the disabled, women and the elderly; in education, criminal law, technology, housing and the environment. Our faculty and students aim to give marginalized groups the opportunity to gain access to legal procedures. But this is indeed only the first of three pillars that define the clinics’ activity,” she asserts.
Second is the profound impact that work with the clinics has on the students’ outlook and horizons. Each student working with a legal clinic gains insight from interacting with people from different populations and from first-hand experience in the law courts. For many, work with the legal clinics presents their first opportunity to meet people from disadvantaged communities. For example, some Arab students are introduced to Jewish communities for the first time and Jewish students learn to help Druze and Arab populations in the north of Israel. Students develop diverse skill sets in legal action and problem solving, while deepening social sensitivity and a commitment to justice. “Our students conduct real clinical practice and bring their experience back to the classroom, contributing to reflective legal education and discourse. They learn what their true responsibilities and roles are as lawyers.”
Thirdly, the academic management, staff and students view the legal clinics as a research lab that offers authentic insight into current social developments and legal doctrine. “Our field work presents an extensive and reliable study of society and the law, making it an intrinsic part of the excellence in research that our students and faculty create,” says Harel Ben-Shahar. The integration of these three aspects really distinguishes the University of Haifa’s legal clinics from many others, she emphasizes. “The clinics rely on outside funding to operate,” explains Prof. Gad Barzilai, Dean of the Faculty of Law. The Faculty is home to eight clinics, many of which have been operating for more than a decade. Each clinic takes on projects proposed by faculty and students, often resulting in successful petitions, appeals and court cases on behalf of discriminated individuals and groups, position papers, policy papers, and legislation initiatives. The synergy between faculty members and the legal clinics is very powerful, as Harel Ben-Shahar’s own work reveals. Her research of educational justice and equality interfaces with projects in the Clinic for Law and Educational Policy. One such research project involves examining the regulation of private involvement in public schools.
“While the law in Israel does not regulate the involvement of private entities in public schools, the phenomenon is becoming increasingly widespread,” she explains. “This allows for a loophole in the educational system that enables private entities to determine factors such as tuition fees, enrollment criteria, and even pedagogical issues, with hardly any supervision. Utilizing various measures, including multiple petitions under the Freedom of Information Act, the Clinic has collected data regarding the scope and nature of involvement of private entities in public schools. Based on a legal and textual analysis of these data, the study aims to shed light on the nature of regulation that currently applies to these private entities, and to critically assess its sufficiency to promote the aims of public education. We also aim to draw up a policy paper for transparent public school management that promotes equal educational opportunities.” Enabling distinctive social impact, student and faculty engagement, and informed research, the Clinics for Law and Social Change are creating a cycle of individual and social empowerment. It is no wonder that students, past and present, have said that working with the University of Haifa’s Clinics for Law and Social Change has been one of their most meaningful and life-altering experiences in their legal education.