December 01, 2012

Continuing Legal Education Helps Female Lawyers Join Forces to Further Justice

December 2012

Not long ago, continuing legal education (CLE) opportunities were nothing more than a dream for Kyrgyzstani lawyers. While course offerings remain modest, such trainings are increasingly more available to legal professionals thanks to a range of ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) programs. ABA ROLI has employed a long-term strategy that today allows some of the very lawyers who once dreamed of CLE to lead such workshops.

Nazira Abyshkaeva (middle), Director of the Advocates Training Center (ATC) Gulnara Sheishekeeva (left) and ATC staffer Kojomkul Opumbaev (right) discuss an agenda for training defense advocates.

Nazira Abyshkaeva and Meyil Begilerova are two such trainers. Nazira earned her law diploma with honors from the Kyrgyz State Law Academy, and went on to work first as an intern and then as an assistant attorney with the Pervomaysky District Collegiums of Advocates in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. In her early days as a lawyer, she had many suspicious clients who wondered how they could entrust their cases to “a school girl”. Eventually though, her patience and hard work paid off: she accumulated experience as she successfully defended her clients in both civil and criminal cases. Her docket grew bigger.

Meyil, who received her law degree from the Kyrgyz State Law Academy, began her legal career in private practice, representing clients in civil cases in the Pervomaysky District Collegium of Advocates, where she met Nazira. While Meyil and Nazira always shared ideas with each other, one case took their cooperation to the next level. In 2011, Meyil was representing a 17-year old girl—who was kidnapped and trafficked from Suzak raion  for sexual slavery—in the court of first instance. While her trafficker was convicted, the defense kept appealing, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Nazira joined Meyil in representing the girl in all subsequent instances until the Supreme Court upheld the verdict of the lower courts. The defendant was sentenced eight years in prison.

“Four eyes see better than two,” states Meyil, explaining why she joined forces with Nazira in representing the young woman. As they continued to work together, Meyil and Nazira learned about the Advocates Training Center (ATC) and took part in several of its skills-building workshops.

Various Kyrgyz legal organizations, with ABA ROLI support, established the ATC  in 2008. The center hosts 15–20 workshops a year and has trained more than 700 lawyers, many of them on multiple occasions, since its launch.

Mindful of the importance of practical lawyering skills, Meyil and Nazira decided to help make the trainings available to more of their peers. They joined the ATC, developing a Kyrgyz-language training program and becoming the only Kyrgyz-language CLE trainers. They also created accompanying materials for the criminal litigation-focused training and continue to lead workshops.

They say that the center has helped them become both better lawyers and better trainers. Nazira says that the trainings they received at the center helped them study local and international legal concepts and hone their ability to apply them. “We want to help our colleagues to feel more confident and behave more confidently in court,” says Nazira, emphasizing the bearing a lawyer’s presentational skills can have on a case’s outcome. “We want to work for justice, and we want more and more people to work for it too.”

Nazgul Suyinbaeva is one of the many Kyrgyzstani lawyers whose careers have been boosted thanks to the ATC-hosted trainings. A successful wife and mother with more than 10 years of legal experience, Nazgul is not only a prominent lawyer in the south of Kyrgyzstan, but she is also a role model for young women in her community.

Ever since she received her law degree from Osh State University, Nazgul says she has been trying to keep herself up to date with new laws and legal concepts, including by taking part in trainings. “A practicing lawyer always needs new knowledge and personal enrichment,” she says. “I try to take part in all possible trainings and educational programs.” Nazgul, who has attended four ABA ROLI-supported ATC trainings, adds that the workshops provide “experience, information and new connections, of course.” She says the trainings have increased her lawyering skills and enabled her to comfortably represent clients in increasingly diverse cases, including human trafficking cases.

Nazgul says that the skills she developed through the trainings came in handy when—following the 2010 ethnic violence in southern Kyrgyzstan—she represented ethnic Uzbeks who were accused of organizing mass disturbances. While things had at times turned violent even in court, Nazgul says they chose a conciliatory approach. “It was scary,” she said. Pointing out that they decided to withdraw a criminal suit against those who attacked lawyers and judges in court, Nazgul says that they wanted to lead by example. “Together, we are doing our best to bring peace and order.”

To learn more about our work in Kyrgyzstan, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.