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Russian Lawyers Need to Lobby More

The younger a lawyer is the more cynical his attitude towards his profession. In legal circles a readiness to sacrifice ethical and moral standards for financial gain is not uncommon. A report by the HSE Institute for Industrial and Market Studies (IIMS) suggests that change requires active engagement from lawyers’ associations and regular research investigations of the legal community

There are 68,000 lawyers in Russia today. The general perception is that it’s a prestigious job and much in demand. However neither professionals nor the public at large know much about the nature of the legal community. In November-December 2013 IIMS worked with the Association of Russian Lawyers (ALRF) on a pilot research project to try to shed some light on the subject.

372 lawyers from 9 regions (representing the entire Russian Federation) took part in the survey. As Director of IIMS Andrei Yakovlev and Researcher at the International Centre for the Study of Institutions and Development Anton Kazun show in their research paper, most respondents are members of the bar association. The researchers asked participants to answer a questionnaire and conducted six in-depth non formalised interviews.

The average age of the respondents was 40 and average length of time working as lawyers was 9 years. 42% received their legal education before 2000. About 30% had studied on correspondence courses.

During the research Yakovlev and Kazun received results on lawyers attitudes to their professional work, to law-enforcement reform, and also their views on improving professional standards and taking part in devising laws concerning the legal community.

A lawyer’s career trajectory

The research results provide an insight into who goes into the legal profession and how their careers develop.

28% of respondents went straight into law after university. About 20% changed professions after working in business and another 20% came from law-enforcement agencies.

When asked, where do lawyers go, most respondents named commercial companies and private practice (34.5% and 32.5% respectively). Next in line is the courts (13.1%) and about a tenth of respondents think that when they give up practice, many lawyers leave jurisprudence altogether.

Among the reasons suggested for quitting the legal profession are high levels of competition and the search for higher incomes. About 60% of respondents think there are too many lawyers working with the population. In business the picture is more cheerful, with only 24% saying the numbers are excessive.

26% of lawyers who are members of the Association of Russian Lawyers (ALRF) and 22% of non-members said they were prepared to change to a better paid profession.

The research included data gathered from a survey of students at the HSE Law Faculty. It appeared that those prepared to change their profession among law students was even higher – 61% were ready to abandon law if they were offered a better salary elsewhere.

The respondents supposed the average salary of an experienced lawyer to be over 100,000 roubles per month. But the average potential pay for a newly qualified person was reckoned to be a paltry 29,000 roubles for members of the ALRF and 23,000 for non-members.

Cynicism is laying down a path for the young

The research revealed a big generation gap among lawyers.

The younger the lawyer, the more cynical he is about his profession. 86% of respondents who trained in the 1970s and 80s agreed that a lawyer must first and foremost follow the letter of the law and if a client asks you to break the law for him you mustn’t. For those who graduated after the year 2000, that number dropped to 74%.

At the same time, there is a growing number of lawyers who think that in the process of helping a client morality should be put aside and a lawyer should do everything he can that his client would do himself if he only knew that law well enough. Of those respondents who trained in the 70s and 80s, only 31% agreed with this, as opposed to 45% of the respondents who qualified after 2000.

To judge by the data in the survey of current law students, cynicism in the legal community will grow in the near future. They are less prepared to stick to ethical standards in their work and will potentially be more tolerant towards colleagues who disregard moral norms. Among the older generation, 75% of respondents agreed that for a lawyer the opinion of colleagues of his or her professional competence is very important. Among the students, only 41% agreed with this.

Law-enforcement agencies in the eyes of the legal profession

Most lawyers are sceptical about the reform of the law-enforcement agencies. “The most noticeable changes are concerned with tightening control on the quality of work by lawyers,” Yakovlev and Kazun report in their research paper. They noticed that half of respondents remarked on how the government has been doing this. “However, 20% of respondents mentioned more transparency in the courts and only 16% said there was an increase in public restraints on law-enforcement agencies.”

Respondents were asked to give their own evaluation of the work of law-enforcement agencies. Results showed that most believed the rights of their clients are infringed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – 60%, with investigators and prosecutors (50 and 28% respectively) next on the list of perpetrators.

The survey threw up regional variations. Lawyers in the Volgograd, Vologodsky and Penza regions felt their clients rights were better observed since reform, whereas in Moscow and the Moscow region (particularly as far as infringements by investigators were concerned) and in the Russian Far-East, things had got worse.

The research paper shows that members of the ALRF mentioned a slightly lower level of infringement of clients’ rights.

Lawyers need professional associations

Yakovlev and Kazun asked the lawyers what they thought might be good ways to improve the prestige of the profession.

42% of respondents among ALRF members believe that entry requirements for law degrees should be raised, while only 29% of non-members think it necessary.

More than a third of respondents in the ALRF suggest making the qualifying exams more difficult. 22% of non-ALRF members agree.

The views of lawyers in the ALRF differ on many points with those not in it. ALRF members for example have a more positive attitude towards working with non fee-paying clients. 20-30% of ALRF members often work for the public giving legal aid without charge.

According to our survey, say Yakovlev and Kazun, the best qualified and most successful lawyers tend to be in the ALRF. They are more loyal to the current state of the legal environment and the trends of change in it. At the same time, the level of active involvement in the Association of respondents was relatively low. “This can be explained by the lack of sufficient stimuli to get involved, which in turn pre-determines the limited financial possibilities for the Association itself” say the researchers. They point to other countries’ experience of developing professional and business associations which show that to function well they depend on ‘selective stimuli’ coming from the state, when the state includes representatives of specific associations in the process of solving problems in their area of work.

The researchers also take the view that the professional associations should listen carefully to the opinion of the legal community as they have direct contact with law-enforcement and can recognise its pluses and minuses. “In this respect, we believe the ALRF (probably together with the Federal chamber of lawyers) could initiate a project to evaluate how the law is administered across the country, based on a regular (annual) survey of lawyers in all regions,” say Yakovlev and Kazun.

As far as investigations of the state of the entire legal community and its values go, Yakovlev and Kazun think they need to be continued to consolidate the ‘healthy’ part of the community.


Author: Marina Selina, April 17, 2014