Friday, February 16, 2007

Lori's job

Hi everyone. A few of you have asked about my job. It is going well and the learning curve has been steep. I am working in legal education reform. Armenia would like eventually to join the European Union and wants its education system to be recognized as on par with European schools. Armenia has agreed to follow the regulations as outlined in the Bologna Convention, but still has not quite figured out the actual implementation. So.... there is much work to be done. Armenia had 70 years of Soviet occupation and the one law school taught Soviet law. Now, they have their own government, statutes, laws, regulations, but still has much to do before its legal system will be on par with European courts.

The biggest difference from law schools here and law schools in the States (I can't speak for Europe) is the concept of critical thinking - using case law to make an oral or written argument. Here, there is reliance on rote memorization. The legal education is also very theoretical with little opportunity for practical experience.

Another difference: corruption. As a law student, I didn't pay anyone for my grades and didn't know anyone who did. Grading - while not always fair or uniform - was at least not bought. Here, the law professors are not paid very well - $200 a month is good - and the society has a reliance on bribes. A newspaper article was recently published showing that a huge percentage of students had paid for grades at one time or another.

My portfolio from ABA is to start a pilot project on curriculum reform. We are trying to start two new classes at the premier law school here - Yerevan State University - that teaches critical thinking skills. One class will be legal methodology, the other may be intellectual property (there is no actual recognition here - everything is bootlegged even though technically it is illegal). We are also working to start another clinic. The problem with the clinics (there are 3 functioning ones right now) is that they do not understand how to obtain clients despite the fact that there is a huge need for pro bono legal services. (One clinical director allegedly rejected my office mate's ideas to pass out fliers at the bus stations as saying that the female students would be unattractive to potential husbands!) Next week, I am visiting two clinics in the regions.

The upshot is that it is a good time to be working on legal education reform. The schools themselves seem to recognize that change needs to occur and are interested in trying new approaches. The students are motivated to learn new techniques and at a winter school put on by ABA, the students were very excited to participate in a moot court competition.

I observed a court case the other day. The courtroom looks somewhat similar - judge at the front, wooden benches for people to sit at and counsel tables. It was a scandalous free speech case. A documentary filmmaker criticized the owner of a TV station calling him a parrot, stupid, a crook, and god knows what else. The TV station owner sued and brought criminal charges that were pursued by the prosecutor's office. The best lawyer that the filmmaker could buy didn't argue what we would think was obvious: public persons can be criticized, criminal statute doesn't meet European standards, but instead made some lame arguments about how the words that the filmmaker used were not really insulting because the actual words would not necessarily be insulting to an average person. Absolutely nothing linking the case to human rights, right to free speech, public figure, etc. The defendant, the filmmaker, was asked to leave the courtroom because at the last hearing he apparently made more scandalous remarks. So much for the right to confront your accuser.

That's the upshot of my job right now. I like the people I work with. The Armenian staff attorneys are very knowledgable and helpful.

1 comment:

Christy said...

that sounds very interesting. You might be interested in some of the principles of community based participatory research. WHile you aren't researching, some things might be applicable to you. the idea is that those that are 'researched' or those in whom you are participating in a service project, are active particpants in the programatic planning, from the ground up. I am learning all about it. Very interesting. Hope you all had a good weekend. I took a cooking class at the viking store, it was fun.