Friday, March 21, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow May Close 90 Percent of Russia’s Law Faculties

Paul Goble

Baku, March 22 – Confronted with a surfeit of often poorly trained lawyers and confident that incoming Russian president Dmitry Medvedev supports the idea, the Association of Jurists of Russia is conducting an accreditation program that may lead to the closure of as many as 90 percent of the country’s law faculties.
If that happens, Oleg Kutafin, the head of that association’s working group, said, the Russian Federation would then have a significantly smaller – only 60 to 70 schools – but far stronger system of legal training than it has at present, Gazeta reported yesterday (
In Soviet times, that association’s president Sergei Stepashin told the newspaper, only 250 educational institutions provided legal training; now, there are some 1500. “Unfortunately, the quality of many of them leaves much to be desired,” and as a result, he added, Medvedev backs the accreditation effort.
(Not that the quality of Soviet legal education was in every case that high, at least in terms of promoting a commitment to the principle of the rule of law – as the Russian Federation’s most famous law faculty graduate, current Russian President Vladimir Putin, demonstrates.)
The growth in the number of such schools has been so explosive and the looseness with which they have been regulated so obvious, Gazeta said, that the education ministry “has difficulties” in providing reliable information about the number of people now studying law.
Many of those now in law faculties will never work as lawyers, officials pointed out, and consequently, it is extremely difficult for the ministry, which is charged with projecting Russia’s needs for graduates in various areas five years ahead, to say exactly how many lawyers the country needs.
Some students apparently enroll in law faculties either because they believe that a diploma from them will open a variety of doors in government and business, while others do so uncertain about their future plans and desirous only of gaining exemption from the military draft, attitudes that the for-profit law schools regularly exploit.
Indeed, Kutafin said, many of the country’s law faculties “have become places where people pay money in order to get a diploma or to avoid military service. With this, we must make a break once and for all,” not only for the dignity of the legal profession but for the future of the country.
At the present time, the law association official conducting the current accreditation drive continued, “not one respectable institution will hire a graduate of [these for-profit] institutions (with rare exceptions] not because they are commercial but because they do not provide high quality training.”
Kutafin told the paper that testing the level of knowledge of the graduates was insufficient because “even at Moscow State University it is possible to find students who know nothing.” Instead, he said, his survey will focus on faculty preparation, library resources, and curriculum requirements.
The first places likely to be deprived accreditation and thus forced to close are the small private institutions, “Gazeta” suggested. And the next victims are likely to be law faculties in technical universities. Students in these institutions will have to transfer or change
But none of this is likely to happen immediately, the paper said. Kutafin himself did not give a time frame for his commission’s work, but clearly this review process, one designed to ensure that the Russian Federation will have highly trained lawyers rather than large numbers of people with law diplomas will take “not less than several years.”

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