Legal reform in Russia

Chandlee “Chan” Barksdale ’63 was a Russian major at Bryn Mawr and had made trips to the Soviet Union as a student in 1962 and on a business trip in 1982. So when the Institute of International Education, working with the American Bar Association to provide training expertise and technical assistance to its legal reform project in Russia, offered her a job in early 1995, Chan jumped at the chance. “I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to spend an extended period in Russia, to contribute to the history being made here, and to have a shot at perfecting my Russian after all these years.”

Chan works on a public service project of the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI). Originally established in 1990 only to provide assistance to the new Eastern European governments in drafting their constitutions, CEELI’s activities have expanded greatly in scope and geography. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Bar Association opened a CEELI office in Moscow. In Russia the project has assisted in drafting new legislation that reflects democratic and free market principles, in reforming the legal profession and the judiciary, in modernizing law school curriculum and teaching methodologies, and in combating organized crime and corruption. “The rationale is that only by having a strong and reliable legal foundation and living by the rule of law, will democracy and free market principles be able to flourish,” explains Chan.

Chan’s role on the project has focused on educating defense attorneys on substantive legal issues and on developing a tradition of continuing legal education. She designs and produces seminars, taught by Russian attorneys who have been selected and trained by CEELI, aimed at teaching basic trial skills to other defense attorneys. During communism, “defense attorneys were minor players in a game in which prosecutors held all the power and judges were their pawns,” says Chan. “In fact, judges and prosecutors were often in collusion and the most the defense could hope to achieve was a reduced sentence. Prisoners are assumed guilty here, not innocent as in our system. In the courtroom, they sit inside a ‘cage’ with iron bars.”

CEELI also works with local Russian bar associations in conducting seminars outside Moscow, to provide other areas of the country with the opportunities before found only in the capital. Chan visits these areas herself to set up the local programs. “I have had a unique opportunity to travel, and have visited cities and become friends with people from the Caspian Sea to the Baltic, from the hills of Pyatigorsk to the Urals, and from the Byelorussian border to Siberia,” she says. The project has proved a great success, and Chan is optimistic about its future. “After two and a half years I’m still excited about it.”

Return to profiles page