How do lawyers work in a newly created nation?
March 7, 2007 8:31 PM   Subscribe

How do lawyers work in newly formed (or reformed) countries with new political systems, like Eastern Europe after the USSR, or Iraq or Timor-Leste today?

I've always wondered how the law works in practice in countries with new governments that differ substantially from their predecessors. I know that governments set up new courts and the like, but what happens to existing lawyers? Do they all get recertified? Do foreign law professors have to be brought in en masse? I was particularly interested in those three examples, but any other nations are welcome.
posted by StrikeTheViol to Law & Government (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
With regards only to Russia, my understanding was that a large fraction of the law (the criminal code, for instance) was directly inhereited from the RFSFR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic). The breakup of the Soviet union was, AFAIK, completely "legal", in that each of the republics already posessed the de jure right to secede from the Union, and each exercised this right. Constitutionally, I don't think there was a huge gulf between the pre-1991 and post-1991 legal systems.

What did change was the laws pertaining to private property and the formation of corporations (and political parties). So, for instance, shareholders' rights were tenuous at best in the early days of post-communist Russia (and the oligarchs were not, technically, acting illegally when they rigged privatisation deals etc.) I believe that this was the reason for a large number of commercial law specialists from the West getting sweet jobs in Yelstin-era Russia.

It should be noted that cases brought under these laws all went through the same courts that had been used before the breakup.
posted by claudius at 8:57 PM on March 7, 2007

Here is some broad background information about the East Timorese legal system, which emphasises the small size and relative inexperience of the East Timorese legal profession. The fledgling Bar Association is trying to establish a code of conduct and an accreditation process.

The best summary I have come across is this one (Word doc) by Gordon Renouf, an Australian lawyer. It is a little old (2001) but it does explain how they handled the immediate transition period. The situation after Indonesia's departure was bleak:
During the last 15 or so years of its occupation the Indonesian authorities encouraged East Timorese to gain university qualifications in Indonesia and provided a number of scholarships for that purpose. However, as noted above, at the time of independence there were about 70 East Timorese residing in East Timor who had completed university degrees in law, mostly in Indonesia. However of these as few as one of these had gone on to complete the two year further study required to commence practice as a lawyer, and gone on to gain post admission experience as a practicing lawyer .
The article goes on to describe early efforts to train East Timorese lawyers, which largely involves internationals acting as mentors to Timorese law graduates. For example, the UNTAET regulation establishing the public defender's office requires Timorese nationals to have a law degree, but requires internationals to have a law degree plus several years' experience.

You might also be interested in this 2006 article from the East Timor Law Journal, which discusses the use of Local Dispute Resolution Mechanisms due to the people's lack of trust in the more formal judicial institutions.
posted by robcorr at 10:17 PM on March 7, 2007

To answer your question more directly: in East Timor, for practical reasons all Indonesian law was inherited until it was either declared repugnant to human rights or until it was replaced by new laws. As far as I'm aware, there has been no change to the legal accreditation system, though there are ongoing discussions about it.
posted by robcorr at 10:19 PM on March 7, 2007

Good question.

Here's an article about training Iraqi lawyers, with sources that might get you started on more in depth research into Iraq.

Even with extreme regime change, the underlying legal framework and tradition can remain remarkably undisturbed (see e.g., USSR above, English common law, Louisiana).
posted by GPF at 7:28 AM on March 8, 2007

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