The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) recently introduced an online continuing legal education program for attorney trainees in Serbia. The pilot program was the first of its kind in the nation and it offered legal coursework online from December 2007 through April 2008. The program was designed by ABA ROLI and then implemented in cooperation with the Niš Bar Association and the Faculty of Information Technology (FIT) in Belgrade.
The program featured twenty 45-minute lectures, each available online and presented by a prominent legal practitioner. The curriculum featured criminal and civil procedure applicable in the Republic of Serbia and in international bodies. Additional topics included legal ethics, free access to information of public importance and alternative dispute resolution. Each continuing legal education “class” consisted of a lecture and presentation and also incorporated practical samples, hyperlinks and additional resources. At the end of each class, participants were offered a self-grading test on the subject matter. Thanks to this flexible format, law firm trainees were able to take courses at their own pace and in a manner that was convenient for their daily work schedules. The program also offered interactive features such as e-mailed thematic questions, chat rooms and discussion forums.
On June 19, results of the program were presented in Belgrade. The project was lauded as a success, with 40 trainees participating in 20 lectures—participants recorded a total of 280 hours of online coursework. Program evaluations indicate that the classes were well designed and implemented. The prospects for similar future programs are boundless: classes can be offered to other trainees in Serbia; they can be amended or updated with additional links and documents throughout the duration of the program; and they can feature any legal topic and presented to any target group. With the important first steps now taken, the Serbian legal system is now squarely on the road to widespread continuing legal education.