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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Receiving a Legal Education in Russia

(Written by Svetlana Sedova, a member of the JRCLS Russia Moscow Chapter.  She received her JD from Moscow State University in 2001 and works as a legal coordinator for the LDS Church in Russia.)

Formal education in Russia dates back to 1755, when the first Law Department was opened at the Moscow State University. Russia has continental legal system as opposed to common law in America. As Russia’s legal system is still evolving after the collapse of the USSR, law are constantly changing, and most of the current laws were passed in the last 20 years.

Moscow State University
During Soviet era, all higher education was free, and all universities were state-owned, creating a lot of competition among those willing to be accepted to the universities, especially at the best ones. It all changed in the contemporary Russia after many private universities emerged. Seeing the demand for legal education, most of them opened law departments, accepting every student willing to pay for his education, irrespective of their academic achievements, for as little as $100 a month.  Prospective employers quickly reacted to that, preferring students from the top state-owned universities with solid educational programs and very competitive entrance exams. These state universities also continue to offer free tuition to those who receive higher scores at the entrance exams (usually half of all accepted students).

High school students who want to pursue legal career start preparing for the entrance exams one or two years before graduation in such areas as Russian language, history and social science. Students who successfully pass entrance competition are enrolled in the Legal Department at their university from the very beginning, and study mostly those disciplines that are connected to the law (different fields of the law, history, philosophy, logic, Latin and English language, etc.). After four years they receive a Bachelor’s degree in law, and can continue their legal education for two more years to become Masters of Law. Further education includes postgraduate education and Higher Doctorate degree.

Students study 5 days a week (which is different from 6 days a week in high school) and have several lectures (in large groups up to several hundred students) and smaller classroom sessions each day. The program is very intense, and many students do not work, studying full-time. Also, students write several term papers every year. Every semester is finished with exams, where students draw tickets with the topics and answer them verbally to the examiner. Usually they have 20-30 minutes to prepare and then give a comprehensive review of the topic, usually followed by question and answer session though with some courses, such as Civil Law, the tradition has been to not allow any preparatory time. There is a slow movement towards more written tests at some universities, though verbal testing is still valued very highly as an integral part of legal training. Some field training is also offered. In order to receive the diploma, students have to pass several final so-called State Exams and present their graduation thesis.

All that said, one can work as an attorney in Russia even without any legal training, as legal services are not subject to licensing or passing a bar exam. Exception is made for the attorneys-at-law who want to represent companies and individuals in the courts--they need to pass a qualification exam and receive a status of an “advocate” (In-house attorneys can represent their companies in the court without having an advocate’s status).

Even though there seems to be an overflow of attorneys in the last years with all the new private universities, it is still considered very respected, exciting, and prestigious profession, sought after my many prospective students.

Thanks, Svetlana.  It was wonderful to be taught by you!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome information. I still remember one of my oral exams as an American student studying for a semester in Latvia in the USSR period, and how nervous I was about what topic I would draw. It was a great experience.