Legal Education Reform and Civic Education
The ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) worked to improve the quality of legal education in Cambodia’s primary educational institutions, including the Royal University for Law and Economics (RULE) and the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors (RSJP). Our legal education advisor, Steve Austermiller, worked with faculty at RULE and the RSJP to introduce modern teaching methodologies and materials that focused on enhancing students’ practical lawyering skills and analytical reasoning capabilities. ABA ROLI worked in Cambodia as a subgrantee to the East-West Management Institute, under the U.S. Agency for International Development-funded Program on Rights and Justice II (PRAJ II).
Hosting client counseling competition
In 2008, ABA ROLI organized the first client counseling competition in Cambodia. The contest has developed into an annual event, and in 2012, it was held for the fifth time. The competition places teams of law students in a simulated law office environment, challenging them to conduct a counseling session with an actor posing as a client. The competition allows participants to demonstrate their practical legal skills, such as active listening, interrogation, empathy, issue spotting, legal analysis, problem solving and teamwork, in front of a panel of local and international judges. ABA ROLI helped participating students prepare for the competition by conducting interactive client counseling workshops. The 2009 national champion team represented Cambodia in the International Client Counseling Competition.
Launching an advocacy-skills clinic
In July 2007, ABA ROLI launched an advocacy skills clinic with classroom and internship components. The classroom program had three topics—legal advocacy, land law and administrative law—and afforded participants an opportunity to take part in interactive exercises focusing on critical thought and practical skills. In the legal advocacy classes, students worked on a single hypothetical case throughout the lessons, honing their interviewing, brief writing, interrogation and case strategy skills. They further refined their skills by applying the lessons they learned to real land law and administrative law cases under the guidance of practicing attorneys and law professors.
As part of the internship component, students spent 80 hours at a non-governmental legal aid organization while maintaining a journal of their experiences. Students engaged in a variety of tasks, including attending client interviews, witnessing court appearances, helping gather evidence and attending workshops on land-dispute investigations. As of 2008, the internship program was modified into a field trip series during which students traveled to courts, law firms, the Arbitration Council and the War Crimes Tribunal to learn about real-life advocacy.
In 2008, the advocacy skills clinic further expanded to include an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) component. The class was immensely popular, leading ABA ROLI’s legal education advisor to develop a bilingual, Khmer-English ADR textbook, which was published in January 2009. The textbook is the first ADR resource of its kind for law students, legal practitioners and judicial officers.
Developing a legal-ethics class
In May 2007, ABA ROLI helped RULE develop a curriculum for Cambodia’s first legal ethics class. The curriculum incorporates philosophy of ethics, Buddhist ethics, lawyer ethics, judicial ethics and prosecutor ethics. ABA ROLI trained two RULE professors to teach the class and helped the university develop the student selection process. In the first year, more than 70 students applied for the 20 seats in the class.
Introducing interactive-teaching methodology
In 2006, ABA ROLI introduced 10 law professors at RULE to interactive teaching methods. ABA ROLI also helped the professors revise their curricula and lesson plans to make them more innovative and interactive, employing role plays, brainstorming, hypotheticals and case studies. By winter 2006, the professors had successfully developed more than 75 interactive lesson plans on various subjects—including family law, commercial law and ethics—which they implemented in the 2006–2007 academic year. The program allowed more than 300 students to benefit from the interactive classes every year. In August 2007, two private law schools—at the Norton University and the Cambodian Mekong University—adopted the approach, hosting interactive teaching workshops for 20 law professors at a time.
Organizing regional study tours
To train the Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project’s (PILAP's) Cambodian staff, ABA ROLI hosted regional study tours. In 2005, PILAP attorneys were trained in the Philippines and Thailand. Such tours provided staff attorneys with opportunities to learn about legal non-governmental organizations in other Asian countries and the impact of their more open political systems and participatory attitudes.
Creating public service announcements
The PILAP team created three 60-second-long public service announcements (PSAs) targeting Cambodian youth aged 11–14. The PSAs, which aired throughout Cambodia in January and February 2007, were meant to raise the youth’s awareness about legal rights and responsibilities.
Hosting mock trial competition
In spring 2007, ABA ROLI developed Cambodia’s first mock trial competition, allowing students to practice important advocacy skills, such as logic, persuasion, interrogation and public speaking. Each of the seven Cambodian law schools participated in the contest, held at RULE’s newly built moot courtroom. The moot courtroom, the first of its kind in Cambodia, was an old auditorium that ABA ROLI helped transform into an exciting learning venue with almost 200 audience seats. Boasting state-of-the art audio and video facilities, the moot courtroom hosted a successful competition presided over by Cambodian and international judges. In 2008, the competition was repeated at the University of Cambodia and was attended by hundreds of law students and professors. Competitions continue with winning teams participating in international mock-trial competitions.