Project-Based Learning at the Institute of Law: Students to Offer a Model for Supporting the Professional Rights of Lawyers

Besides high levels of professionalism, lawyers working in the Russian system also need such traits as high resistance to stress and readiness to work in unusual situations. Within the project-based learning system, future lawyers at SUSU are working on a project which has no analogues in modern legal practice. In the course of the project, students will develop a model for supporting the professional rights of lawyers.

We spoke with the project’s curator, Head of the Department of Criminal and Penal Law, Criminology, Director of the SUSU Institute of Law, Candidate of Sciences (Law), Associate Professor Irina Belyaeva about the specifics of the work of attorneys, the precedents of interference with the activity of attorneys and the methods of fighting against it, on the behavioural tactics in case of interference with the activity of attorneys, on the legal gaps in the regulations on the professional rights of attorneys, and about whether or not students can affect changes in the Russian law in this sphere of legal regulation.

– Please tell us about the history of this project. Who initiated it?

The history of this project is short for now; we are still in the very beginning of this path. The idea was born when we were given a task to organise project-based learning for students in fields that are truly interesting to us as lawyers, to our main partners, and to our students. Work within this project should help students immerse themselves in the world of real legal practice while they are still studying.

One of our key partners is the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Region, and one of the members of our Department staff is an excellent representative of the legal community – Chairman of the Young Lawyers Council for the Chelyabinsk Region, Mikhail Kirienko. We came to a conclusion that these inter-sector interdisciplinary problems within the attorney activity are very important today, and will be helpful to our partner lawyers and to the future lawyers studying with us.

After analysing the methodology of legal practice, we came to a conclusion that no one has made such generalisations yet. That is, there is no universal methodically-verified program on law.

Interference with professional activities is common in various stages of an attorney’s work, in all forms of proceedings. The tasks of our research within the project include the systematisation of the current legislation in the field of implementation of a lawyer’s rights, the search for and analysis of cases of interference with the attorney activity, and the development of proposals that can help overcome these situations.

Having discussed the idea of our research with the leaders of the Chamber of Lawyers, we concluded that the final product of this project will be the suggestions for correcting the current legislation with the goal of removing gaps and problems in the sphere of lawyers executing their professional duties. In addition, under the guidance of the project head and with the help of teachers, students will develop methodological recommendations for professionals: how lawyers should behave in one stressful situation or another related to interference with his/her professional activities on protecting the rights, freedoms, and legal interests of individuals.

A presentation on the beginning of the project was given at a meeting of the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Region and at the Federal Chamber of Lawyers.

– Please give us the most clear examples of interference with attorney activity.

The most obvious and common example is the failure to fulfil a lawyer’s request, despite the fact that there is a law which regulates the precise execution of a request. On December 18th, we held a round table on this topic. Students from group Ю-360, who are actively participating in this project, and practicing lawyers were present.

Student participants of the project attending the round table on Legal Request: Current Status and Prospects

At this round table we discussed the behavioural tactics during interference with legal practice, which are mainly used by investigators at the preliminary investigation stage.

Another form of interference, for example, is when a lawyer is deliberately not presented materials for review of a case. Another example is situations where the investigators or the court very critically assess the evidence that the lawyer gathers independently and presents for scrutiny by virtue of the powers given to him by law.

Sometimes lawyers work in unfavourable, uncomfortable conditions. These conditions are escalated in order to disorient the lawyer and reduce his/her activity in the investigation.

There are really a lot of problems!

Of course, prominent lawyers with a lot of work experience are able to cope with such situations. But for beginning lawyers, these methodological recommendations on overcoming interference with their professional activities would be helpful, in our opinion.

– The project is intended for a two-year period. What important steps have been completed?

Six Bachelor’s students under 40.03.01 Law program are involved in the project. Right now, while the students are in their third year of study, the project is in the preparatory stage. According to the curriculum, they will begin working actively on the project in their fourth year. Right now we are in the organisational, preparatory period. I’d like to note that the students’ eyes are shining, they are very interested in this project, there is a lot of practical work involved, and they are immersed in real legal practice. In the current stage, the students are developing criminologically-verified, detailed questionnaires in order to conduct a survey among attorneys, investigators, and judges.

Taking the results of the questionnaires, we will summarise the research material. We will have live information, on which we will base our research.

In addition, we held a round table within the project; the next event of this kind is planned for March 2019. A meeting was also held at the Chamber of Lawyers between students and those who ordered this project - the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Region and the Young Lawyers Council for the Chelyabinsk Region. In the meeting, the participants discussed the existing cases of interference with legal practice, existing practice on challenging interference with lawyers’ work, gaps in the law on the regulation of professional rights, and what lawyers are capable of doing while working on criminal cases.

All of the student participants will take part in our traditional International Research Conference on Current Issues in Law, which will be held at our Institute in May. At the conference, the project participants will deliver presentations dedicated to analysis of international experience in fighting against interference with the attorney activity.

In addition, in meetings with the participants of the project, we discuss the topics of final papers. Next year, the students will describe methods of combating interference with legal practice in these papers.

– How exactly will the results of this project be proposed as real steps for changing the existing legislation?

We must be objective: in reality, it is difficult to implement recommendations for change in the Russian law, considering that the law clearly defines the subjects to whom legal initiatives are given. Of course, students do not belong to this group. But it’s very important to bring up the existing issues for discussion and be heard even if just within a professional society. We will have the opportunity to discuss these issues in conferences and round tables, as well as at other events.

We have a task set within the project: to prepare a project of changes to the existing legislation with the goal of removing gaps and contradictions related to the execution of legal activities, and we will do everything possible to achieve that.

We will try to formulate real suggestions that can then be introduced into the federal laws, which regulate the activity of attorneys.

The main party who ordered this project, the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Region, clearly defined their request: if, during the work of this project, real recommendations on issues of fighting against interference with legal work are presented, they will be able to take them to the Federal Chamber of Lawyers for discussion. And this is already a real step in changing the existing legislation.

– How do you work with the parties who ordered this project (the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Oblast and the Young Lawyers Council for the Chelyabinsk Region)?

Within the project, we are planning on sending the students for practical training in the Chamber of Lawyers for the Chelyabinsk Region. We will have parity: two students will be sent for practical training to the Chamber of Lawyers, two – to investigative bodies, and two – to legislative bodies. This is how we are planning on allocating the participants to gather empirical material.

I would like to note the high interest of the students. We have a volunteer in the project., We could not accept him into the project officially because of some missed grades, but he is participating in the work on a voluntary basis, has already taken care of his missed grades, and is very eager to take part in our project. Our research has become a stimulus for students to take a more responsible approach to their education. The fact that the students are so full of enthusiasm gives us confidence that the project will be successful!

Yuliya Rudneva
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