"Legal clinic" is a legal education methodology that results from the idea that faculties of law should provide direct services to society. This education and social responsibility policy emerged at US law schools in the 1960s. The primary objective at that time was to protect the rights of black Americans who were denied the power offered by law, in a society characterized by racial discrimination. The main idea underlying a legal clinic is to support those sections of society that have limited access to law, by giving them the opportunity to benefit from legal services in solving their real-life problems and complying with formalities.
Before introducing the Legal Clinic in 2003, BİLGİ Faculty of Law launched a two-year preparation effort, during which it cooperated with the law faculties of the American University and Georgetown University in Washington D.C., USA, the Eötvös Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest, Hungary, and the University of KwaZulu in Natal, South Africa, benefiting from these institutions' long-standing experience in clinical legal education and training. Workshops were organized both at the above-mentioned institutions and in İstanbul, and an effort was made to build capacity in the field of clinical legal education.
Clinical legal education aims to improve access to legal services by allowing students to apply their legal knowledge to real-life disputes. This is not an attorney-client relationship but a free-of-charge information service supervised by the relevant faculty members, and aims to share legal knowledge, and apply it using appropriate channels. More mature versions available around the world also allow the student to offer litigation services within an attorney-client relationship.
The Legal Clinic at BİLGİ Faculty of Law is a two-semester course (offered in fall and spring). During the first semester, students prepare for the activities they are going to perform outside the campus. This involves the acquisition of skills related to negotiations, communication with clients, definition and solution of the legal issue, communication with disadvantaged groups, poverty, social exclusion, and the empowering aspects of the law. Field work begins in the second semester.
At this point, students are expected to choose one of the two legal activities available. The first one involves a study called the “Applied Legal Clinic”. Students meet with people who have limited access to attorneys and legal information due to their social and economic status, perform the necessary legal investigation, and provide legal support in writing when necessary. In some cases, students of the Legal Clinic accompany their clients in their dealings with public agencies, and assist them in preparing their applications. The clinic began to offer services related to family and immigration law in 2004. This was followed by law of contracts, labor and social security law, consumer law and other related fields in subsequent years. The program was recently extended to cover cyber-rights, which deals with human relations in digital environments. More than two-hundred cases have been referred to the applied legal clinics of İstanbul Bilgi University so far.
The second field of study is known as the "Legal Clinic in Daily Life". This involves the providing of legal information to the inmates of certain prisons in Istanbul (Bakırköy, Maltepe, Ümraniye), in accordance with the permission of the Ministry of Justice. Legal information that can be useful both inside and outside the prison is included in the program. Nine-week interactive training seminars are held on the premises of the relevant prisons, and the topics to be discussed are determined on a weekly basis. Most of the 400 graduates of the Legal Clinic have also taken the "Legal Clinic in Daily Life" course. So far, 980 inmates have been granted certificates for attending the nine-week legal seminars at the above-mentioned prisons.
Both fields of study offered by the Legal Clinic allow students to apply the theoretical legal knowledge they acquired in their other courses, and to assume the responsibility of providing legal guidance in real-life legal disputes, under the supervision of faculty members. The fact that work at the clinic involves face-to-face meetings with the persons involved in the legal issue further increases the significance and value of this responsibility. Both the social service provided and the way it is provided play a crucial role in terms of imparting the knowledge, skills and sense of responsibility that constitute an indispensable part of a proper legal education. Considering that human beings are the primary subject of law and legal rules, allowing law students to meet with real people and to guide and empower them in their legal problems constitutes an important gain for both parties.
The Legal Clinic has been designed by BİLGİ Faculty of Law with a view to contributing to legal education in Turkey and sharing the resulting experience with countries of the region, and one can confidently claim that the effort has paid off. In 2005, the Legal Clinic in Daily Life program was given the "Good Educational Practice" award by Sabancı University's Educational Reform Initiative. Conferences and training sessions organized by members of BİLGİ Legal Clinic in Istanbul hosted participants from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Syria (before the war) and to discuss legal education and lawyer training efforts in those countries. Local law experts in Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan received briefings about the Legal Clinic model developed at İstanbul Bilgi University.
Also the Turkish Ministry of Justice recognized the success of the work the Legal Clinic performed at prisons, which has already become the longest-standing program organized by a faculty of law at penitentiary institutions. Officials of the Justice Ministry's Department for Strategy Development visited the Legal Clinic and also attended one of the seminars organized at a prison. The Department for Strategy Development subsequently mentioned legal clinics as a useful model in its judicial reform strategy document. In other words, a program originally developed at İstanbul Bilgi University was officially recommended to all faculties of law around the country. In November 2016, fourteen Turkish universities (twelve public universities and two foundation universities including İstanbul Bilgi University) signed a protocol for introducing this legal education and legal service model at their respective law faculties.