February 01, 2014

Legal Clinic Provides Needed Services and Infuses Students with Passion for the Profession

February 2014

“After spending just six months [working] in the clinic, I see my future entirely differently,” says Toktosunova Batma, a second-year law student at Kyrgyzstan’s Jalalabad Institute of Law and Business. “Whereas before I was nervous, now I am confident and excited. I see myself as ready to take on new challenges [and to] face the administration, the courts and [colleagues] in law enforcement and the Prosecutor’s Office to advocate on behalf of clients.”

“Most people [here] cannot afford to hire a lawyer,” says Batma (right). “We are very happy that we can provide such a valuable service for our community.”

In Fall 2013, Batma was competitively selected to enroll in the university’s legal clinic program. “Before, I was unsure that I could truly become a defense attorney,” she says. “Most of our courses focused on legal theory, and I was not sure that I would know what to do in practice. Just the thought of being in a courtroom or talking to law enforcement officers sent shivers down my spine, and I was genuinely afraid of facing a prosecutor!”

With ABA ROLI support, the university had launched its legal clinic program the previous year to offer skills-oriented educational opportunities to its students. Those enrolled in the legal clinic, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of an effort to support the legal defense community, assist clients with actual cases while working under the supervision and mentorship of their professors. Prior to joining the clinic, the participating professors themselves had taken ABA ROLI-led courses to enhance their teaching and managerial skills. 

Through the clinical experience, the professors help the students gain a competitive edge in their profession via opportunities to analyze legal cases and to work directly with clients. Thus far, 35 students have participated in the clinical program at the Jalalabad Institute of Law and Business, and students say that the legal clinic complements their classroom lectures and equips them with skills that will smooth their transitions from law students to practicing lawyers.

In remote Jalalabad, limited awareness of legal rights and poverty combine to hamper access to justice. “Most people [here] cannot afford to hire a lawyer,” says Batma. “We are very happy that we can provide such a valuable service for our community.” 

As an example, she shares the story of a recent client. The woman sought legal assistance because her husband, who had a history of domestic violence (DV), had beaten her and taken her children, aged one and three. She had earlier sought help from law enforcement agencies. However, unaware that it was required, she had not obtained the doctor-verified evidence that the agencies needed to proceed.

After the legal clinic accepted the case and began proceedings to file for a divorce on the client’s behalf, her husband learned that she was benefiting from legal aid. In response, he immediately returned her children. To help ensure the ongoing safety of the client and her children, the legal aid team asked the court’s medical experts to analyze the woman’s injuries. The results supported the woman’s DV claims, providing enough evidence for the legal clinic to file a criminal suit against her husband.