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August 31, 2008

Georgia Legal Profession Reform Index Highlights Rapid Changes and New Challenges

August 2008

On Thursday, July 10, the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) hosted a rollout event to announce the publication of its second Legal Profession Reform Index (LPRI) for Georgia.

The Georgia LPRI Volume II assesses the state of the legal profession in Georgia as of November 2007. It is based on a series of 24 factors that address a wide range of issues including professional freedoms and guarantees education, training, and admission to the legal profession and conditions and standards of practice. The LPRI’s findings highlight the rapid changes that are taking place within the legal profession in that country. Since the first Georgia LPRI was published in December 2005, a number of positive developments have taken place. Out of the 24 factors assessed in the LPRI, 10 factors showed improvement since 2005, while only two indicated a decline.

Notable positive developments in the legal profession include the creation of the Georgian Bar Association and the promulgation of the Code of Ethics for advocates and the establishment of a disciplinary procedure for the enforcement of the Code. Since 2005, the legal education system has also undergone reforms, including the introduction of an institutional accreditation process.

The two factors that deteriorated reflect several growing problems in the Georgian justice system. One concern is the exclusion of defense counsel from legal proceedings, as a result of a new plea-bargaining process. An additional challenge is posed by crowded detention facilities and the monitoring of meetings between advocates and detained individuals. Other issues facing the legal profession in Georgia include the inquisitorial judicial system, which results in criminal defense lawyers not enjoying the same rights as the prosecution.

The Georgia LPRI Volume II assessment team was lead by Kristine Womack-Ziems, an American lawyer who previously led the assessment team during the drafting of the second LPRI for Azerbaijan in 2005. Ms. Womack-Ziems was assisted by staff in ABA ROLI’s Georgia office, in particular staff attorneys Irina Lortkipanidze, Irina Japharidze and Mamuka Mamatsashvili. The assessment team reviewed legislation pertaining to the legal profession in Georgia and conducted interviews with more than 55 individuals, including lawyers, members of the judiciary, government officials, law students and professors, and representatives from non-governmental and international organizations. The initial findings of the LPRI were subjected to a rigorous review process, both in Tbilisi and at ABA ROLI headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Click here to read the Georgia Legal Profession Reform Index, Volume II