Statistics indicate that about 80% of the Russian population cannot afford to pay for legal services. Moreover, most citizens are unaware of the limited free legal services that governmental agencies, ombudsmen, legal clinics and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) offer. To help alleviate the situation, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is supporting the creation of free legal service networks in three pilot regions. The initiatives in St. Petersburg-Leningrad, Ulyanovsk and Nizhni Novgorod will improve access to justice and enhance legal literacy, boosting citizens’ confidence in the legal system.
Following the preparation of comprehensive directories and a series of in-country roundtables on free legal aid, ABA ROLI brought an eight-member Russian delegation on a September 25 to October 2 study tour to the United States. The delegation, including presidents of regional bar chambers, advocates, lawyers, and directors of legal clinics and NGOs, visited Burlington, Vermont, and New York City. The tour allowed the delegation to learn about different models for operating, delivering, supervising and publicizing free legal services in the U.S.
While in Vermont, participants met with the counsel to the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Services, Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley, and with representatives from the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project, Vermont Bar Association, Vermont Law Line and Vermont Legal Aid. Discussions addressed private and government-funded approaches to legal aid, the history of pro bono services in the United States, the ethical rules governing pro bono services, the court’s view on pro bono and mechanisms for ensuring competence in service delivery.
In New York, participants explored governmental and non-governmental structures and the delivery of free legal aid in urban areas. They met with representatives of the Volunteers of Legal Services, who discussed how they assess legal needs and recruit volunteer lawyers. Participants visited the City Bar Justice Center to learn about innovative resources, including telephone hotline and online services. They also visited the Legal Aid Society, the nation’s oldest and largest private, non-profit legal services organization, and the Legal Services Corporation, the nation’s largest pro bono civil legal service organization that is partly government-funded. The delegation assessed the organizations’ models for possible replication in Russia.
The tour culminated in an agreement paving the way for coordinated provision of free legal services in Ulyanovsk. The agreement was signed by the president of the ABA, president of the Ulyanovsk Chamber of Advocates, the regional ombudsman for human rights, the regional ombudsman for the children’s rights, the director of the State Legal Bureau, the director of the Ulyanovsk Legal Department (in absentia), the president of the Notarial Chamber, the rector of Ulyanovsk State University Law School and the director of the Center for Consumer Rights. The agreement will allow ABA ROLI to organize a consolidated network of free legal services, including the establishment of a hotline to consult and refer indigent clients to the most appropriate provider. On November 11, ABA ROLI will sign a similar agreement with partners in the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region. These efforts are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
To learn more about our work in Russia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.