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.