Vienna, April 17 – President Dmitry Medvedev told the Association of Jurists of Russia yesterday that the country’s law schools must be reformed because many of their graduates are unqualified, can’t find jobs, or create problems when they do, an implicit warning to those who have assumed that the rise of lawyers in Russia points to the creation of a law-based state.
In his speech opening the meeting, Medvedev said that there are too many schools preparing too many lawyers and too many of them inadequately”: “These people in part cannot find work. And if they do, this is still more dangerous” because as lawyers, officials or judges, it “can have a very serious negative effect for our entire country.”
Medvedev’s remarks, not surprisingly, have been widely covered and commented upon. (See, among others, the stories at www.komersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1156504&NodesID=7,
www.polit.ru/news/2009/04/17/ekz.popup.html, www.sobkorr.ru/news/49E828688C0FF.html). And they are certain to generate even more comment next week after Orthodox Easter.
While Medvedev said he wanted any changes to be introduced “without a revolution,” his calls for the closure of many law schools, the introduction of stricter testing and licensing requirements, and even an apprenticeship program for lawyers would be revolutionary not only for Russia but for the assumptions many have about that country’s development.
On the one hand, the proposals of Medvedev and other participants will strike at the heart of the private sector of Russian higher education as it has developed over the past two decades, by leading to the shuttering of numerous private institutions and calling into question the role of the marketplace in higher education.
And on the other – and at least potentially more fatefully – the Russian president’s words represent an implicit attack both on the current fashion for lawyers there in recent years – becoming a lawyer in Russia now is much like becoming an engineer was in the Soviet Union in the past – and on the assumption that more lawyers will produce a law-based state.
Under Yeltsin, as Sobkorr.ru observer Sergey Petrunin has pointed out, many Russians believed that becoming a bookkeeper was the way to gain social and political status. Then, under the “early Putin,” many saw becoming an FSB officer or a member of the siloviki was the way. And most recently under Medvedev, Russians saw law school as the best trampoline.
Both Putin and Medvedev have law degrees, but that has not defined their politics, Petrunin notes, just as the other professions did not define the politics of earlier Russian and Soviet leaders. Instead, people with various kinds of training went to work in the political realm, both remembering and forgetting what they had been taught in school and university.
The Sobkorr.ru writer says that Medvedev’s comments, which clearly intended to elevate Russian lawyers by improving their training, may not have that effect. “Generals are always preparing for the last war,” he points out, and who can say whether Medvedev’s ideas about how to achieve status will prove to be any longer lasting than those of his predecessors.
Russians have a saying, Petrunin concludes, that “you’d know the price if you lived in Sochi.” But life itself is having the last laugh over that, he suggests, “because it is precisely Sochi” which is “one of the few regions” of Russia “where elections have been preserved and where, their final result, let us hope, is unpredictable.”
Meanwhile, there are reports about three new pieces of legislation drafted in most cases by lawyers and that, if passed, those with legal training will one way or another have to cope, even though as in the case of most laws, it is the politics behind them rather than training of those who draft them that appears to be the more important factor.
First, a group of LDPR and Just Russia deputies have introduced a bill that would impose criminal sanctions on anyone advocating separatism for a republic or region of the Russian Federation (versia.ru/articles/2009/apr/15/ugolovnaya_otvetstvennost_za_separatizm).
Second, another bill has been introduced that would ban dual citizenship among deputies, a status which its authors, many of whom back this arrangement in other countries, argue would be wrong for Russia (versia.ru/articles/2009/apr/15/dvoynoe_grazhdanstvo_dlya_deputatov).
And third, still a third bill under consideration would ban the showing of people smoking in films produced in Russia, one measure which does serve as an indication that there is a kind of convergence of Russian laws with Western ones but not necessarily proof of the positive role of lawyers there many had expected (medportal.ru/mednovosti/news/2009/04/16/smoking/).