The clinical education program of BİLGİ Faculty of Law commenced in 2003. It is a legal education model that was initiated in the US in the 1960s but meanwhile has spread all over the world. The method is based on “learning by doing” instead of experiencing theory in a protective and artificial environment such as the classroom. While establishing its programs, BİLGİ Legal Clinic has taken foreign experiences as a model for itself. A cooperation was established with the American University and Georgetown University in Washington DC, USA, Eötvös Lorand University (ELTE) in Budapest, Hungary and University of KwaZulu, Natal in South Africa. BİLGİ Faculty of Law Staff attended training sessions undertaken in those universities as well as training sessions organized in particular at BİLGİ Faculty of Law.
The Legal Clinic course is a two semester course. In the first semester students are trained toward their outside the classroom sessions. Throughout that period, students learn to address subjects such as poverty, social exclusion and empowerment through law and get equipped with skills enabling them to interview and communicate with disadvantaged groups. In the second term, these skills are being deployed and practiced in the field. Typically, students would have two options: They may choose to help those who cannot afford an attorney due to their socio-economic situation by helping to solve their legal problems. This involves interviewing them, researching the legal issue at hand and writing legal memoranda. Those students might also accompany these people in their visits to government offices and help them filling out application forms or writing petitions (Private Law Clinic).
Alternatively, with the approval of the Ministry of Justice students may visit prisons located in Istanbul and provide convicts with legal education for about nine weeks on issues they might need to know during and after their imprisonment (Street Law Clinic). In both cases, students find the opportunity to practice theoretical knowledge that was obtained in other courses as well as to develop skills such as talking in a language that can be understood by disadvantaged people, speaking in public, interviewing, conducting legal research and writing – all of which will be beneficial to a great extent in their subsequent legal career. Moreover, the legal clinic experience also provides those students with further maturity by way of establishing links with people from different social circles.
The goal of the course is thus to bring law students closer to the social side of this discipline and the responsibility of the profession while they are still pursuing their legal studies. As a matter of fact, those students experience the above mentioned awareness to full extent through this exercise which is very much in line with the social responsibility mission that is embraced by Istanbul Bilgi University.
The success achieved through both of the programs is widely acknowledged domestically and internationally. In 2005, the Street Law Clinic was selected among one of the “best practices in education” by Sabancı University Education Reform Initiative (ERG). The clinics have been visited by scholars from Egypt, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon following which, trainings were provided by BİLGİ Legal Clinic in Lebanon and Pakistan.