Legal advice: a case study

Utilities statements, warranty claims, consumer questions – at the student legal advisory office Studentische Rechtsberatung e.V. at Kiel University, those seeking help can get advice for free. Plus, it provides law students with valuable insights into practical work.

Three people have a discussion at a table.
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Students Lennart Lehmann (left) and Lena Weisphal (right) are involved in the Student Legal Advisory Office. Law professor Susanne Lilian Gössl (centre) supports the voluntary project.

The idea came to the current chairman, Michel Seer, during his studies: “We read cases in books and process fictitious cases, but there’s a lack of practical experience,” said the budding legal scholar. That’s why he founded Studentische Rechtsberatung e.V. at Kiel University at the start of 2020. The association aims to enable students to put what they have learned into legal practice. It’s experience that helps to prepare them for the world of work later on: “Of course, it is seen favourably by potential employers if you have done voluntary work,” said Seer, but above all it’s enormously helpful to work on real cases during your studies. “Asking yourself: what do I need to select for? How do I approach this? How do I organise a real-life legal application?”

Professor Susanne Gössl, Professor of Civil Law and Digitalisation in German, foreign and international private law, confirms this. She supports the faculty’s involvement in the association. “I thought it was a great initiative. In law especially, there is a tendency for students to concentrate exclusively on their studies,” emphasized the legal scholar. She stands by the team both professionally and personally. “I don’t advise them myself, but help if there are legal questions in the background. What I – and other colleagues – mostly do, though, is to offer workshops and provide access to specialists from the working world.”

Workshops on subjects such as data protection law, legal technology, client meetings and communication provide the upcoming lawyers with regular training for their voluntary work. This can even count towards their studies as a key qualification certificate. After all, from an educational perspective, the involvement has great added value, explained Susanne Gössl: “Personal responsibility is taken for each case, emotions really are involved here. Legal studies convey in an abstract way how a case works, but it is only possible to experience the procedure and mechanisms in real life. From a teaching perspective, there is no better way to learn than by writing a letter yourself and receiving an answer to it.”

How does the legal consultation work?

When a new case is brought to the Studentische Rechtsberatung advisory office, the management board first checks whether the necessary criteria are met: cases originating in criminal law or asylum law are not handled, and the value of the claim must be less than 1,000 euros. “We don’t want members who are in their first semester, for example, to be directly confronted with very serious queries. That could involve a prison sentence, which is a weighty matter. There is also the question of liability. We don’t want to approach a case with fear and nervousness, but rather to tackle it constructively,” explained the founder, Michel Seer. The issues are then distributed to working groups. There are now around 40 junior and senior advisors. The latter have already completed their undergraduate studies and have sound legal knowledge. The advisory opinions drawn up by the students are checked by fully qualified external lawyers before being returned to the clients. Many enquiries are received regarding tenancy law, contract and consumer law as well as public law.

But does the model have the potential to become a fixed component of legal degrees? “From an educational perspective, it would certainly be good if such forms of practice were more strongly integrated into studies,” said Susanne Gössl. Students would still have to complete internships with solicitors’ chambers, courts and administrative bodies. “But it would be better if practical work were to be conveyed continuously,” said the professor. However, the fact that the educational system is geared towards the state examination and has very little flexibility stands in the way of this. “Under current requirements, I would not like to burden the students with even more to do, as they are already under pressure and have to learn a lot of material,” said the legal expert. “However, it would be good to rethink the entire system.”

Author: Anna-Kristina Pries

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