Legal education in Armenia mostly focuses on theory, and lawyers rarely have post-graduation opportunities to acquire and enhance much-needed practical skills. As part of its rule of law programs spanning more than 17 years, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) has offered a trial-advocacy skills course to Armenian lawyers since 2009, affording lawyers an otherwise scarce opportunity to hone their lawyering skills. Gayane Sargsyan, Tamara Baghdasaryan and Robert Manveylan are some of the more than 250 lawyers who have since benefitted from the intensive 15-session course.
Immediately after graduating from law school, Gayane focused on taking care of her young family. When she decided to practice law, Gayane turned to the trial-advocacy course that ABA ROLI offers to help boost her skills. Tamara, who received her law degree in 2005, enrolled in the trial advocacy course in 2010, and says that in addition to teaching her what to do at different stages of a case, the course also built her confidence. Robert attended the course in 2009, and immediately after that, he teamed up with some lawyers to launch a small law firm. He says the training helped kick start his criminal law practice and build his professional network. He also says that the training exposed trainees to the European Convention on Human Rights, which he has employed to protect the rights of his clients.
Gayane credits the training for helping her make a difference. After excelling in the course, Gayane was selected for an ABA ROLI-sponsored summer internship with Armenia’s Public Defender’s Office. She says that the internship gave her hands-on experience, which helped her launch a successful career as a criminal defense attorney.
To supplement the training and to provide a reference for participants, ABA ROLI also developed and distributed an advocates’ handbook. Tamara says that when she was beginning her practice, the handbook helped her understand case procedure and enabled her to draft effective motions and correspondences. She says that such knowledge helped her become a better lawyer, including by enabling her to challenge untrue in-court investigator testimonies by comparing them to police records.
Following her training and internship, Gayane took her first case pro bono. A gentleman from her village was accused of a robbery that was committed while he was on a phone call with his fiancée who was in another village. Armed with the skills and knowledge she gained from the training, the internship and the ABA ROLI-published handbook for advocates, Gayane got busy to prove her client’s innocence. She established her client’s alibi from telephone records and discovered that four crimes using the same method had been committed while her client was in custody. Gayane won bail for her client—a rare occurrence in Armenian courts. Eventually, her client was absolved of the crime.
“I worked very hard to apply everything I had learned during ABA ROLI’s course and from my internship at the Public Defender’s Office,” says Gayane. “Without the seminars, I would not have been able to accomplish what I did in this case.”
Gayane continues to practice law, including in the European Court of Human Rights. She also trains fellow lawyers. Tamara, who now teaches criminal law at her alma mater—Northern University—in Yerevan, refreshes her skills with ABA ROLI trainings whenever she can. And while he now mostly handles administrative cases, Robert says that the skills he gained through the trial-advocacy training still come in handy in his practice.
ABA ROLI’s criminal law reform program in Armenia is supported by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.
To learn more about our work in Armenia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].