Irish legal education is under increasing pressure to reform and reinvent itself in the face of various challenges, especially those implied by the Bologna process. In line with two of the main priorities of the process, namely employability and student-centred learning, a growing number of Irish law faculties have incorporated, or are planning to incorporate, more practice-related components into the law curriculum and, in some cases, a fully fledged Clinical Legal Education programme. This is an important shift in the paradigm of legal education in Ireland which should be welcomed and encouraged by all stakeholders – students, academics, practitioners, judges and those involved in myriad capacities in the administration of justice.
In the first part, a comprehensive presentation is given about the general structure of legal education in Ireland dealing with the main legal education providers, academic and professional requirements for legal training, as well as figures on the legal population and the approximate cost of legal education. The second part goes on to consider three views about the role of practice in Irish legal education, namely the ‘traditional’ view, the ‘holistic’ view and the ‘clinical’ view. These schematically presented views reflect different perspectives on the nature and purpose of legal education. They do not necessarily compete with each other, especially the last two which could arguably complement one another in the general renewal that Irish legal education is facing at the moment. The traditional view is that the status quo, i.e., in which practical elements are not a big feature of legal education at third level, has worked well and should, more or less, be preserved. The holistic view encourages the teaching of some element of practical preparation, but that this can best be provided to students by third level institutions through interdisciplinary courses that put law in context. The view which favours clinical legal education is that more can, and indeed should, be done to enhance the preparation of students for law practice, although it has to be pondered in light of economic realities, competing views about pedagogy and the Bologna context.