Lisa Radtke Bliss, Georgia State University College of Law director of experiential education, co-director of the Health Law Partnership Legal Services Clinic and associate clinical professor, was a member of the training team for the first Myanmar Clinical Legal Education Workshop on July 12-14 at the University of Yangon.
Bliss was invited to support Myanmar's clinical legal education initiatives this summer after her 2012 work in Thailand. The application of clinical legal education methodologies in Myanmar will help strengthen legal education and the legal profession there.
"It will raise student and faculty awareness of social justice and the legal needs of the Myanmar people, and foster development of ethical, competent legal professionals," Bliss said.
The workshop, sponsored by the U.N. Development Program, introduced deans from university law departments across Myanmar to the opportunities for incorporating clinical legal education methods into legal education, and to the possibilities for creating law school clinics and other experiential programs. The international nongovernmental organization, Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative, organized the workshop, which included faculty trainers from Asia, Europe and the United States.
As clinical legal education is integrated into Myanmar universities, law graduates will begin their professional lives with important knowledge, skills and values that were not previously emphasized, Bliss said. Traditionally, law schools in Myanmar have employed a more lecture-based approach to teaching law. Skills training will be significant to students as Myanmar engages in trade and other developments important to the country's economy and its future.
"Law graduates who are trained using clinical legal education methods are likely to have a better understanding of issues surrounding access to justice, and they are more likely to engage in pro bono work for disadvantaged populations," Bliss said. "Clinical legal education programs engage in outreach, educate community members about the law, and can provide vulnerable populations with important counsel and advice, thereby strengthening and empowering those communities."
These programs combine substantive knowledge and necessary skills, such as legal analysis and client representation, that generalize to diverse legal contexts, Bliss said. Exposure to clinical legal education also helps students develop an ethic of professional practice.
Bliss also visited Thailand during her trip, where she met with members of the Thai Law Reform Commission to advocate for a national plan for the development of clinical legal education in Thailand.
"Thailand is undergoing rapid development," Bliss said. "Law graduates there will have a significant impact on the country's continuing economic and social progress as lawyers, government officials, politicians and teachers. Integrating clinical education into the Thai law school curriculum will help law graduates contribute positively to the future of Thailand, regardless of what type of professional employment they choose."