The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) through its Balkans Regional Rule of Law Network program, and in cooperation with Open World Leadership Center, four lawyers from the Kosovo Bar Association (KBA) visited the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) from May 10-14, 2016 to enhance the relationship between the two bars, which established a pilot mentorship initiative last summer to provide technical support to KBA.
With the help of the MSBA Criminal Law Section and the support of Federal Judge John R. Tunheim, KBA delegates were able to attend a mock trial and learn about voir dire, opening and closing statements, and how to direct and cross-examine witnesses.
The KBA was established in 1973, when Kosovo was still part of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, KBA was re-established as an independent institution in 2001. The KBA is the national bar association of Kosovo, a constitutional institution that has the exclusive right to license and register lawyers. Currently it represents approximately 600 advocates across seven regions of Kosovo.
Since independence, the KBA has developed a mandatory continuing legal education (CLE) system, a legal education institute that provides training for advocates and bar preparation for law interns, a functioning disciplinary body that imposes sanctions on attorneys, and specialized committees focused on areas of interest such as ethics, legislation, minorities, and gender. Despite these accomplishments, the KBA remains a young organization that is growing and still facing significant challenges. ABA ROLI is supporting KBA in overcoming these challenges and developing its capacities through KBA’s mentorship relationship with the MSBA.
A chance to learn
The KBA delegation spent a week in Minnesota to learn more about a number of subjects, including:
- Attorney specialization and bar specialty section creation
- Gender inclusion in the profession
- Programs for young lawyers
- Criminal defense in war crimes cases
- Funding sources for bar operations
- Training programs, such as the use of online technology to create curricula.
KBA delegates were received by (then-) MSBA President-elect Robin Wolpert and Executive Director Tim Groshens, who showed great interest in this mentorship program. To encourage KBA delegates in their challenging path to building a sustainable institution and improving the justice system in the country, Wolpert compared them to the American founding fathers.
One of the areas of cooperation and assistance identified jointly was the creation of specialty sections. The KBA delegates were greatly interested to learn about the involvement of the sections in CLE and of the ways that sections provide for the needs of their members. They were intrigued to learn that Minnesota CLE was an entity independent from the MSBA that fulfilled the mission of providing continuous training to lawyers through methods such as skills training, National Institute for Trial Advocacy style training, webcasts, etc. KBA delegates were very much interested in in learning what makes MinnCLE a very successful provider, especially considering that law schools and other training centers were serious competitors in the area. The KBA hopes to foster cooperation with MinnCLE going forward, as it can help to reform the training center in Kosovo.
KBA delegates were also interested to learn the ways in which the MSBA reaches out to members — such as email, directory for members, and social media — and to learn about the resources that MSBA provides for practicing lawyers. One of the most important things KBA delegates had the opportunity to experience during the week of the visit was the atmosphere that reigned within the bar and among the members, which truly gave the feeling of a voluntary organization.
Another area in which MSBA has offered to support KBA is to encourage more women in the profession. KBA has a very low percentage of women lawyers — only 12 percent — and our leadership is working to make the profession more attractive for women lawyers. To this end, the meeting with the president of Minnesota Women Lawyers (MWL) and the director of the Infinity Project (which focuses on including more women judges in the profession) was quite productive and provided the participants with some ideas for strategies KBA can use. MWL explained to the KBA delegation that they organize support groups for all the needs and challenges women lawyers face, and this has attracted many women lawyers to join. The KBA is also interested in developing a young lawyers section within the bar to encourage more young legal professionals to enter the profession. MSBA members have been supporting the KBA to develop such a body and after the visit, the KBA board formally authorized the creation of a Young Lawyer’s Section.
With the help of the MSBA Criminal Law Section and the support of Federal Judge John R. Tunheim, KBA delegates were also able to attend a mock trial and learn about voir dire, opening and closing statements, and how to direct and cross-examine witnesses. KBA delegates were impressed by the organization of the mock trial, especially by the direct and cross-examination techniques, and by the chance to observe a pure adversarial trial.
Nebojsa Vlajic, who is a Serbian criminal trial lawyer from Kosovo, said afterward, “This is very useful for my practice, although very different from the way trials are held in North Mitrovica, where I usually represent my clients. As you know, we have European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) judges and prosecutors there and the Criminal Procedure Code of Kosovo is now adversarial, but that is not what happens in practice.”
The last day of the visit culminated in a reception hosted by Judge Tunheim at the Federal District Court of Minnesota. Judge Tunheim spoke about the importance of this mentorship not only for KBA but also for MSBA. Merita Stublla Emini, the Prishtina regional bar president, thanked the MSBA and, in particular, Judge Tunheim for all the support provided to KBA in its efforts to build a modern bar.