University’s Law Students Help Change a Legal Norm

University Law Faculty students have brought about a change in Israeli labor legal norms through the Faculty’s Legal Aid Clinic.
The case that led to the change in the law concerned unemployment benefits. Under the former interpretation of the labor law, an unemployed person was entitled to these benefits only from the date of commencing a Labor Ministry course designed for changing skills. The claimant applied to one of the University’s Legal Aid Clinics. Using a brief provided by the Law Faculty students, the claimant’s assigned lawyer argued against the unfairness of this interpretation in the Haifa Labor Court.

If a suitable course were not immediately available, the lawyer contended, an unemployed person was unable to claim benefits until the start of the course, which might not take place for six months. Unemployment benefits, he urged, should begin from the time of referral, not from the first day of the course. The Haifa Labor Court held against the claimant. Following the judgment, a successful appeal was presented to the National Labor Court to change the interpretation of the law in question.

Israeli law provides free legal aid to those in need and who qualify under certain criteria. Academic coordinator of the Faculty’s three Legal Aid Clinics, Ilan Saban, explained how they worked. The Legal Aid Bureau of the Israeli Ministry of Justice refers cases to the Law Faculty. The Faculty then employs its criteria to select cases which qualify for legal aid. For civil cases there are two civil clinics, one for the general public and one for new immigrants, which are now in their fifth year of operation. For criminal cases, a legal aid clinic has been in existence for four years.
During their existence, Saban related, the two civil clinics have dealt with 360 cases, some routine, some more principled. The variety of subjects covered include family and personal matters, contracts, land-tenant relations and status. “The students,” Saban said, “are given the advantage of becoming involved on the practical side by working as aides to the lawyer.” In his opinion, this experience exposes law students to certain sectors which they normally would not have a chance to encounter and which may create in them certain sensitivities.

The students collect information, interview clients, and write a brief. The lawyer coordinating the applied side of the clinics, Amnon Givony, guides the would-be lawyers. Students, then, become involved with a real case from start to finish and gain “hands-on” experience outside the classroom. Besides the invaluable experience they perform a community service. And sometimes, as this case showed, in a precedent-making manner.

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