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Publication Citation

27 Indiana J. Global Legal Studies 249 (2020)


This paper first provides a brief description of the genesis of legal clinics in Italy, and highlights the motivations and expectations lying behind the emergence of the legal clinic movement in this context. Second, the paper gives a brief description of the institutional context of legal aid in Italy, and assesses its effectiveness in terms of granting legal assistance to those unable to afford a lawyer. The third and fourth parts then offer an account of court enforcement mechanisms that aim to ensure effective access to justice. Part three gives this account through the lens of court enforcement of the Workers' Statute, and part four gives this account through the lens of court enforcement of antidiscrimination law provisions concerning race, ethnic origin and nationality.

This paper then explores these experiences described in the first few sections, going beyond their success or failure in enforcing rights in court, to then enlarge the field of inquiry to the relation between legal strategies and political mobilization. Part five discusses the danger that institutions and strategies, designed to strengthen access to justice, might disempower rather than empower individuals and communities that they aim to serve, and that these individual and collective needs may be forced/fit into pre-established frameworks and strategies. Part six provides a context-sensitive assessment of the type of contribution legal clinics can provide in addressing the limits of the national system of access to justice, and in moving forward a critical reflection on public interest law practices in the Italian and, more broadly, in the European context.

We conclude that the coexistence of educational and social justice aims provide clinics with a number of comparative advantages over other actors of public interest law. Clinics embody a unique forum to better understand the nature of legal knowledge and legal practice, and to reflect critically on how the right to access to justice is actually enforced. Clinicians are not only a community of practice, but also a worldwide epistemic community. Legal clinics are, therefore, a space to both practice public interest law, and to rethink such practices, and to influence public policies on access to justice. Providing a reflective space on existing practices and promoting alternative practices of public interest law might thus, we argue, represent the major contribution of legal clinics in making access to justice more effective.