The Fernando Pombo Foundation (Spain) in collaboration with the nation’s universities has launched an innovative multi-purpose project Multiplícate that seeks to involve law students in the defence of the rights of the underprivileged and minority groups, while also promoting social entrepreneurship. The project has both a theoretical and a more practical dimension to it. Academic course syllabi, hands-on workshops and other training activities for students pursuing their LLM degrees are designed to educate future lawyers about pro bono practices, social responsibility in the legal profession, ways to affect the lawmakers and the law enforcement practices. The Foundation is currently running its educational programmes with more than 20 Spanish universities, reaching more than 3,000 law students. Within the framework of the Multiplícate project future lawyers have a chance to gain valuable practical experience working at their universities’ legal clinics in partnership with NGOs and independent experts. A legal clinic is an innovative teaching methodology used by universities and law schools that combines teaching with the provision of services to cases of public interest. At the same time, the Multiplícate project seeks to foster a community of Spain’s legal professionals that is capable of serving the public interest and should do so, says the head of the Foundation, Carmen Pombo.
In conversation with Legal Dialogue Carmen Pombo explains: “It is really important for us to be able to show our students that law is a public profession that can have a social mission and promote positive changes through law enforcement practices and advocacy of specific groups in the population. Although several Spanish bar associations do have their pro bono programmes, this practice has not really caught on in the professional community. This is why we think it is important to raise our students’ awareness of the human rights issues, legal ethics and advocacy service to minorities and socially underprivileged groups. Besides the NGOs that represent the ‘third-sector’, we also collaborate with practising lawyers who help students deal with real cases both from the standpoint of legal strategies and case management, and the client care and guidance.”
The Foundation has become an umbrella structure that brings together students, practising lawyers, community-based organisations and their clients seeking legal aid in order to come up with answers and solutions to these clients’ inquiries. The Foundation has only six permanent staff members, and more than 100 practising lawyers work with it on a pro bono basis. The latter comprise the core of the expert groups whose job ranges from protecting the rights of the homeless to fighting against gender-based violence, and from international migrants’ rights advocacy to advocacy for patients.
Moreover, the expert groups are ardent promoters of the idea of social entrepreneurship among the young legal professionals. Currently, the Foundation’s legal clinics are coordinating more than 50 real social entity cases proposed by social organisations that fall into the “public interest law” category. Experts handpick the most interesting and challenging cases for the students to analyse, study and solve with a view to affecting the national legislative control and law enforcement. Future lawyers acquire practical skills and aptitudes essential for their profession, such as active listening and problem analysis, in addition to designing defence strategies. The cases selected for the legal clinics also serve as an instrument to identify regulatory gaps in the law application related to the most sensitive issues and the protection of fundamental rights. While participating in the legal clinic activities students might discover a particularly relevant subject for their term paper or research, or an idea for their own legal initiative. But the clinics’ most valuable and important outcome is the new generation of professional lawyers who have been personally involved in and intimately familiar with the most urgent and challenging aspects of today’s legal practice from their early years in college, specifically, in relation to the protection of human rights and advocacy for specific disadvantaged groups.
Yet it would be erroneous to regard the output of the legal clinics network set up by The Fernando Pombo Foundation in purely academic or educational terms. The clinics also produce analytics on specific problems which are then published as reports dedicated to various subjects. For instance, the first online legal clinic at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR) released a report titled: “Unaccompanied Minor Migrants. Age determination” that analyses the most frequent violations of underage migrants’ rights during court proceedings.
In order to discuss and summarise the results of the students’ work over the preceding year, the legal clinic of the Law Faculty of the Universidad de Alcalá organised a special workshop. The students prepared an oral exposition of the approaches and solutions to four real cases to a “tribunal” composed of four experienced lawyers who collaborate with the Foundation. All the analysed cases had to do with defending the client’s right to health and healthcare as a human right.
Together with the the International University of La Rioja (UNIR) and their Legal Clinic, The Fernando Pombo Foundation has drafted two important legal reports: “Educational Inclusion of Children with Rare Diseases” and “Right to Diagnosis” that describe effective new tools for lawyers working with such cases.
The Fernando Pombo Foundation has also collaborated with the Legal Clinic of the University of Comillas (ICADE) and the Madrid Bar Association on their “Street Law Refugees” initiative, organising regular seminars for asylum seekers.
In 2013, Spain’s first online legal clinic was established at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR). Since its inception, the Clinic has solved more than 40 different cases and prepared several reports for the specialised governmental agencies and NGOs dealing with relevant issues:
“Our report on hate-crimes against the homeless was taken very seriously by the Ministry of Health, Equality and Social Policy. I think it is a very good outcome,” says Carmen Pombo. “The Fernando Pombo Foundation has prepared several reports on gender-based violence. Such cases are notoriously difficult to handle in court because it is often difficult to prove that the victim has suffered psychological or physical abuse. That is why the reports we have prepared focus primarily on the use of forensic, medical and scientific evidence in the criminal procedure. We are mostly talking about the cases of domestic violence that Spain’s Criminal Code places into a special category of gender-based crimes. We also address our reports and analytics to the legal professionals working in the field of public interest law. We offer them the tools and strategies for the successful legal defence of the victims of psychological abuse. These guidelines and tools have been designed and elaborated under the auspices of our legal clinics.
“The Foundation’s other important achievement is our report on providing civil legal services to homeless individuals that has stirred the public both at home and abroad. I should also note that after we released our report about the legal defence and advocacy of the patients battling rare medical conditions (and more generally, about the protection of the “right to health”), the Foundation received a special grant from Queen Letizia of Spain.”
According to Pombo, the Foundation sees its mission in imbuing a particular understanding of the legal profession in today’s law students, in helping them see legal practice as a form of public service that can effect change in the community and the country at large. The Multiplícate project seeks to foster a generation of legal practitioners who will become the civic leaders of tomorrow, while supplying the NGO sector with highly trained professionals. Students graduating from the Foundation’s many programmes do not lose touch with it after graduation and stay on to work with it as experts.[:]