Eman Elshrafi, Intern for ABA ROLI's LAC Division
When Mexico amended its Constitution to implement a New Criminal Justice System (NCJS), transitioning from an inquisitorial, written-based system to an adversarial, oral-based system in 2008, the necessity of transforming the Mexican legal education model also arose.
Recognizing this need, in 2013, the United States Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) funded the New Advocates for Mexican Justice Program (“New Advocates”), to be implemented by the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI). The goal of this program was to support the transition to the NCJS through a focus on legal education. Specifically, New Advocates carried the the following objectives: 1) to strengthen the capacity of law schools to properly train in oral-based litigation and 2) mediation; 3) to provide law schools with mechanisms for the continuous improvement of teaching practices; and 4) to increase the accessibility of placement in government agencies involved with the criminal justice system for trained law school graduates. Activities were designed around these objectives and carried out with the ultimate purpose of inspiring the following theory of change:
IF trial advocacy trainings, including mock trial and ADR competitions, are strengthened;
THEN a cadre of law graduates with (1) attributes that are sought after by employers, both in private and public offices, and (2) capacities to represent both parties under the Mexican accusatorial system will be established;
WHICH WILL THEN RESULT IN more effective and efficient trials;
THAT IN TURN will strengthen access to justice, due process, and fair trials in Mexico.
In Fall of 2021, towards the initial expiration date of the project (the project had received an extension to continue until October 2022), ABA ROLI commissioned an external evaluation team to conduct an outcome evaluation of the New Advocates Program. The purpose of such an evaluation was to provide useful implications to support future programming in oral advocacy and mediation training. Thus, there is immense value in highlighting some of the key findings present in the assessment.
Utilizing a mixed-methods approach of data collected through online surveys, key informant interviews, and digital videos with respondents who were direct beneficiaries, the evaluation sought the answer the following questions: 1) To what extent did the capacities of trainees in the NCJS improve; 2) How have these capacity improvements helped trainees improve their job prospects and job performance; 3) How have law schools adopted and institutionalized training programs on the NCJS, and to what extent are law schools capable of sustaining these training programs; and 4) to what extend did trainees hired through the New Advocates Program meet the requirements and demands of justice sector institutions?
Under the first point of inquiry, significant improvements were reported in knowledge and skills gained through oral litigation and mediation training among 79-86% of respondents. In the same query, the most growth was seen in the ability of trainees to create a case theory, use evidence, use written pleadings in preparation for oral proceedings, and conduct closing arguments in a hearing. Notably, however, training though competitions as opposed to educational courses created the most consistent improvement. To add, other developments as a result of the competitions, include the abilities to structure legal arguments, build and understand case files, and conduct direct and cross-examinations in trial hearings. Similarly, law students reported significant skill and knowledge improvement in the knowledge of ADR mechanisms as well as the ability to narrate and identify the different interest of conflicting parties during a mediation process.
Respondents who took the restorative justice course reported improvements in knowledge about restorative justice principles, identifying and managing the emotions of parties involved in restorative justice processes, and leading meeting with parties involved in a conflict. On the other end, participating professors also responded positively, affirming a belief that their capacity to develop training materials improved as a result of ABA ROLI’s support. While the feedback overwhelmingly pointed towards significant growth, shortcomings were found in the areas of drafting reparation agreements, reconstructing facts, forensic techniques, and drafting investigation plans. Nonetheless, every cloud has a silver lining. Remarkably, unanticipated outcomes also arose, including development in the competency of participants to structure and form arguments, improvement in public speaking abilities, an increase in interest to work in the NCJS, and expanded professional networks.
Reflecting on the second question the evaluation sought to assess, a compelling number of trainees reported that participating in New Advocates improved their job prospects through the knowledge they gained, the skills they acquired, and the professional networks they created. In particular, the practical experience gained from participating in the program competitions attributed to competitive advantage. One student, for example, noted: