Established in 2006, the Chamber of Advocates (Chamber), Armenia’s Bar Association, had limited opportunities for its legal members in its early years. They had not yet figured out how to advocate on their behalf, and did not know how to be the voice of the legal profession. It would take the Chamber ten years to find its voice; they credit their long-standing partner, American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI), with helping them find it.
A pioneering ABA ROLI legal specialist, Barbara Edin, got the ball rolling in 2007. Edin recognized the important role that bar associations play in the U.S., and she saw that the Chamber needed a forum for the legal community to get together and openly discuss practical issues they faced in the course of their work. Out of informal, social meetings that began for Armenian lawyers in 2005, she helped establish a more formalized networking opportunity for Armenian lawyers, where they could share with and learn from their peers. Edin’s vision and hope for these meetings – held on Fridays and simply called “Friday Club” - was that the Chamber would institutionalize them along with the peer-to-peer best practice-sharing that the clubs facilitated.
Since the first Friday Club, with the help of ABA ROLI’s targeted support and capacity building, the forum has further evolved and formalized, becoming a go-to event for learning about and directly influencing draft legislation that impacts lawyers’ daily practice. Most importantly, Friday Club has also become the go-to forum for identifying and resolving issues that are impeding lawyers’ work. In the last several years in particular, lawyers have used Friday Club to crowdsource issues and to develop recommendations for resolving those issues, with the Head of the Chamber serving as the chief advocate and loudspeaker of his members’ recommendations for reform.
Most recently, advocates complained in Friday Club about being restricted from seeing their clients on weekends and holidays, although prosecutors, investigators, and police were not similarly restricted from questioning arrestees and defendants. This presented serious due process concerns and impeded the right to counsel. In Friday Club, advocates developed legislative amendments to solve this issue, and submitted them to the Armenian government for consideration. In April 2016, the government approved the amendments, which was promising; 90 percent of legislation approved by the government passes the Parliament. Lawyers also used Friday Club as their channel for debating draft provisions of the Criminal Code with a member of the Criminal Code Legislative Working Group. After a series of Friday Club conversations about the Criminal Code draft, Armenian lawyers formally submitted their list of recommendations, 60 percent of which were incorporated and remain in the draft.
ABA ROLI’s Friday Club is a stand-out success story and a clear example of the time and commitment needed to support sustainable solutions for our local partners. Having seen the impact lawyers’ voices can have when joined together, the Chamber is determined to continue Friday Clubs’ success in whatever way they can going forward.
To learn more about our work in Armenia, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].