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FEATURE STORY

“We Are Not Alone” – A Legal Clinic Provides Essential Service in Armenia

May 30, 2016

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Since November 2015, over 500 citizens have received pro-bono legal aid services at the Pro-Bono Legal Clinic in the capital of Armenia

World Bank

Inside the School of Advocates in Yerevan, a queue of people is waiting. The general mood is one of calm, but apprehension is also in the air. Most people are in this building today to deal with one or more elements of Armenia’s legal system, including its judiciary.

Legal aid in Armenia, as in many places, can be highly costly. For large families, single households with children, the elderly and the unemployed, affording just one sitting of legal advice – never mind the full range of services provided by lawyers – is usually a challenge.

Which explains the line of people on the second floor of the School of Advocates – where the Pro-Bono Legal Clinic is to be found.

Today, several lawyers are sitting at tables attentively listening to people presenting their documents and their cases. When discreetly asked about the service provided here, one man waiting in line gladly offers his opinion. “We are not alone,” he asserts. “In all our ordeals we know that there is a place we can come to and get direction.”

Seated in front of two lawyers, a family is weighing up its options with regard to extraditing a relative who is currently serving a prison term in another country. It sounds like a very complex case. Another person is trying to make sense out of the legal guarantee that she had lightheadedly given to a relative, now faced with financial penalties. An elderly person is experiencing problems with his real estate because some family members are challenging the ownership rights.

The Pro-Bono Legal Clinic, well known here in Yerevan and far beyond, provides a glimmer of hope for people throughout the country. Since November 2015, over 500 citizens have received pro-bono legal aid services in the capital, while about 200 citizens living in remote towns and villages have also received assistance – thanks in part to service delivery made available through the World Bank operated IDF Grant Project on the Strengthening of Training Capacity of the School of Advocates.

Inessa Petrosyan, a veteran lawyer, discusses legal issues with individuals while also assigning tasks to Lusine Aslanyan, an intern at the School of Advocates who is gaining professional experience that will count towards her final certification as a lawyer.

“It is quite a responsible moment. I provide a real legal counseling service. Here with our mentors, we learn to analyze real cases and assist the certified lawyers to guide the client through the legal proceedings and bring it to a final solution,” says Lusine.


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" I dream of the honor to one day teach at the School that opened doors to my calling. I want to share my knowledge and skills with those who dream of defending the rights of others. That would be my in-kind contribution to the kindness offered to me quite some time ago. "

Never Sargsyan

An alumnus, lawyer

The Clinic is also closely associated with the legal studies course at the School of Advocates, which has helped introduce new methods of training and modes of communication.

“We have an online database of courses, with clearly defined modules containing recordings of lectures, required lectures and assignments,” says Roman Aharonyan, Deputy Head of the School. “It also gives us the upper hand when offering tailored courses to client organizations. Time is money these days and the clients appreciate our stance.”

Currently, students have a full range of online courses and support materials which gives them flexibility in choosing when and how to complete a particular course, as most already have other professional assignments. In addition, students from themarzes (regions) enjoy the privilege of staying at home in their communities while taking the classes.

“I dream of the honor to one day teach at the School that opened doors to my calling,” says Never Sargsyan, an alumnus and highly sought after lawyer in Yerevan. “I want to share my knowledge and skills with those who dream of defending the rights of others. That would be my in-kind contribution to the kindness offered to me quite some time ago.”

A Web-based learning and training platform, which includes webinars and applications for mobile devices, is also provided by the School of Advocates – enabling the institution to combine its traditional strength in legal analysis and support with modern and innovative capacity building tools.

Through its cutting-edge training program, the School is able to attract high-quality professionals and enlarge its pool of practicing lawyers, ultimately providing better and more affordable legal services – and hope – to the poor and less-fortunate in Armenia. 

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