Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Legal Clinics

I have GOT to remember that legal education here is so vastly different than back home. Part of my job is to set up a new clinic. We started discussions with a private European based university to open a clinic focused on human rights. The university liked the idea, was enthusiastic about finding good staff to run the clinic, has a very Western bent, and everyone was excited.

Our vision: Under the supervision of a practicing attorney (an "advocate" in Armenia) a law student would represent poor people who would not otherwise have legal representation. Students obtain valuable practical experience, the university offers a course that is not common in Armenia, the private bar is not harmed because the client is too poor to pay, vulnerable populations have a voice, and the poor person has real representation. Everyone wins.

Their vision: hire a director to work on policy, an assistant director to work on day to day clinic staff, an adminsitrator to administrate, and a bunch of professors to teach. For ten students. For just consultations (see below). And not hire an advocate who knows his/her way around the court system.

We spent 30 minutes discussing why the clinic's director could not also work as a criminal investigator for the Armenian government. The conflict you non-lawyers might ask? It would be like a district attorney responsible for prosecuting criminal cases representing criminal defendants on the side. A real good way for a lawyer to be disbarred or sued. The university director tried to convince us that while it might be unethical in the US and Europe, it was ok in Armenia, the proposed individual was very ethical and knows whether abuses have occurred, and the University director would make sure no conflict existed. Keep in mind that one of the big issues in Armenia is corruption and the average person has very valid reasons to distrust the legal system.

And then the other issue: they want to just provide consulting, not representation. Because it would be too hard for students. Because private attorneys would be upset that students were taking business away from them. And once people are informed their rights have been violated, they can then take matters into their own hands. So, the clinic would tell a torture victim that torture is against international and Armenian law. And now that the victim has the knowledge that his human rights were violated, he can now take on the Armenian government.

No real need for an advocate then.

We are still looking.

1 comment:

Christy said...

Very interestimg, Lori,
I have doing some work based in the principles of Community Based Participatory Action. It may be something you want to check out, it might help you with your work.....
I love you and miss you