Compassion in Clinical Legal Education: recognising clinics as a site for realising compassion.
Many students come to the study of law because they see injustice and suffering in the world, and they care. The practice of law holds out to them the promise of justice and the means to alleviate suffering. For these students, ‘compassion’ is a primary motivational state. They have a sensitivity to the suffering of others, and a commitment to alleviating and preventing it. Yet, too often, legal education fails to engage and support this motivation or guide its realisation. Law is the focus, rather than the person, or ‘other’, upon whom the law acts. Clinical legal education provides a unique opportunity to support students to reconnect with the value of compassion, requiring them to turn towards the person and engage with their suffering. Recognising this matters because it underscores the importance of clinical legal education and its potential to re-enliven, and re-ennoble, law and legal practice in the minds of students. But it also matters because once we recognise that students are being asked to engage with suffering, we begin to consider how we can support them to cultivate the enabling psychology of compassion. This paper is an invitation to consider the value of naming compassion as the foundation of clinical legal education.