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Image by Ian Schneider


A little bit of history

In the Netherlands, law clinics of various kinds (e.g. some joining in litigation, e.g.  by preparing preparatory legal briefs or submitting amicus curiae briefs, and others preparing reports and other output based on independent academic research) have been included in the  law curriculum much later than in the US, but they are becoming self-evident features here as well, for two obvious reasons.

Firstly, we have civil society organisations  that are interested in  research output from academia that they can use for advocacy and that they can consult when considering whether and, if so, how to litigate. They are often small organisations with limited resources and what they ask of law clinics is independent academic research.


Secondly, we have academic institutions that are interested in doing research and in teaching where it matters. As to the latter: most of us have found out ourselves that we learn best by doing (and making mistakes), and that the best kind of learning by doing is when we know it is done for a purpose, that the output will be useful to a non-profit organisation. In practice this means meeting the requirements of an academic paper as well as engaging with the organisation to find out what it is they need. You are doing this in a group and that has its own dynamic, opening opportunities for learning by managing frustration, learning by inspiration and stepping up the mark to achieve a good collective document.

At Radboud University Nijmegen a law clinic is a rather new phenomenon.  We had a Tech Law Clinic in the last few years, led by Pietro Ortolani, which was very well received and will hopefully re-emerge, and in 2021-2022 the first cohort of Law clinic students started who are interested in not-for-profit human rights work. Initially the Clinic was referred to as the Nijmegen Law Clinic on Human Rights, and now it is known as the Radboud Law Clinic on Human Rights.

"While the teaching at the University of Maastricht, where I took my Dutch law degree, was very interactive and also had a not-for-profit law practice, I was first introduced to the phenomenon of a research law clinic when I subsequently did my LL.M in the US in 1995-1996. In fact one of the reasons why I chose to do study at the University of Virginia was its human rights law clinic."

Eva Rieter, Clinic Coordinator

"My experience with clinical legal education dates back to 2000. I was one of the student-founders of a law clinic at Tomsk State University in Russia. Two professors-founders of the clinic represented cases of wrongfully accused local opposition leaders, including our ex-mayor, before the ECHR. Later I worked at an NGO Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) on access to justice, legal empowerment & clinical legal education projects around the world. I was privileged to learn from best U.S. clinics and to meet Richard Wilson, a founding father of clinical legal education."

- Anna Pivaty, Clinic Teacher

What we do

Next to legal-doctrinal research, some clinic projects also involve socio-legal research and analyse real-life experiences with the law. In some cases, students may also interview stakeholders or be invited in a meeting between the organisation and members of the ‘movement’. And even if students only do legal doctrinal research, they are encouraged to be aware of the knowledge generated by other academic disciplines and the language and methodology used there.

As a law clinic focused on research, when selecting projects and when carrying them out we remind ourselves of our roles as academic citizens and we reflect continuously on what access to justice really means. The projects are developed in a conversation between an organisation and the Clinic. Once the students start, they delineate the research project further based on the exchanges with the organisation and the feasibility, given the number of students, their backgrounds and the available time.  The students interact with representatives of the organisation. The organisation knows that it is a learning process. At the end of the official clinic period the planned deliverable often is not yet ready to be delivered to the commissioning organisation. In that sense, the community service is mutual. The civil society organisations help Master students to exercise their professional skills by taking the time to discuss the issue with them.


We do not work directly with victims of human rights violations, but instead with civil society organisations.  Fortunately, the organisations we work with are themselves constantly reflecting on their own roles vis-à-vis the communities they serve, and are aware of the importance of independent academic research.  The Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP) is a case in point. As Jelle Klaas, Litigation Director of PILP, puts it, they want to assist ‘the movement’ on a certain human rights issue. Finding out what are the various voices in this movement and what are common concerns and interests requires a lot of conversations. And there will be a constant balancing with what, if anything, is legally feasible. In many cases feasibility studies with an eye on possible litigation, may contribute to other forms of legal mobilization.  PILP simply asks the Clinic students to research the situation academically. They know that this may result in findings they were not hoping for and they know that whatever is the outcome of the research, they will need it so as to be able to make well-balanced decisions.

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