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  • Tatiana Levina, 4th Year Law , State University of Humanitarian Sciences
  • Maria Lizorkina, 2nd Year Law, Moscow State University
  • Maria Philippova, new graduate from the Law Department of Moscow State Institute of International Relations
  • Dennis Rybakov, new graduate from the Law Department of Moscow State Educational University

The writers are students of Advanced Legal Writing, Spring Semester 1999, at Pericles American Business & Legal Education Project, Moscow, under Professor Marian Dent. This paper was prepared for a seminar on American Assistance to Legal Reform in Russia, given at Yale University Law School, April 1999.


This memo discusses the problems of legal education in Russia. After group discussion, we agreed upon and targeted the most common problems in the areas of admissions, financing education, the education process, the teaching faculty and the administration.

In this introduction, however, we want to emphasize the many positive aspects in Russian legal education. For example, some Russian students can study law for free. In general, the structure and courses taught in Russian law schools are very professional. Although more practical courses are needed, we feel well trained, upon graduation, to enter the legal profession. Russian law students are as well trained as students from other countries, and the training is improving year by year...

We would also like to stress that the problems in legal education in Russia are very closely connected with the general problems in Russian law and in the country itself. Russia suffers a lack of legal culture. People have no reason to respect or even believe in the law. Upon graduating from law school, new lawyers face a totally different approach in practice than what they learned in school. Russian legal practice often has a very remote connection to the law, and is more closely connected to bureaucratic whims. Lawyers also face problems in corruption of state and legal bodies. Reform of Russian legal education, therefore, can not be complete until legal culture touches the whole society.

With this in mind, we now proceed to discussing concrete problems.


The first problem to be discussed about Russian legal education is logically the first problem students encounter upon entering law school: difficulty and corruption in the entrance process. This, combined with the difficulty in applying to more than one school and with the lack of public information about many law school programs, makes improving the admissions process a critical goal.

Entrance exams are difficult because there is no universal view on the subjects covered by exams in the different institutes. Different law schools can have entrance exams on different subjects, or on different aspects of the same subject. Even if you are absolutely sure that the subject is clear for you, the examiner always can ask you additional questions not related to the nature of the questions you have been given to prepare. Students have no preparation for such entrance exams in high school, as the level of many courses given in high school is very low. This also concerns those important courses usually tested on law school entrance exams. Students have no choice but to take a private teacher from the institute to which they want to apply, and to hope that it will help.

Usually students take a teacher for every course that will be examined in the institute of their choice. The average number of entrance exams is four. Considering the high costs of lessons given by private teachers (even in groups, not individually) and the number of required sessions to be up to the institute's level, the final amount become a significant one. However, nobody can guarantee you a positive result. Even if you take the best teacher--if he/she is not the member of Examination Committee - it is nothing you can be sure about.

Corruption is very widespread inside the institutes. The level of the corruption depends on the popularity of the institute. The more popular, and therefore difficult, the institute is to enter and complete, the worse corruption is inside. This concerns not only the entrance exams but also the day-to-day life of the students.

It goes without saying how corruption heavily affects the students. The atmosphere is demoralizing. Students lose their motivation to work properly. They know how to get the best result without any true efforts. Even those who work hard and receive fair acknowledgment, feel uncomfortable. Moreover, corruption in the entrance process leads to cheating in class. If the student passed entrance exams unfairly, he/she certainly will continue to do this further. They will carry this practice into seminars, exam sessions, and further

This also leads to unethical practices in the legal profession. If the student becomes used to such practices while studying, obviously he/she will continue and follow the "rules" after graduation. Those who become used to receiving everything unfairly and to having a special relationship with the authorities will show the people that this is the easiest way to accomplish legal results.

Finally, this leads to poorly qualified lawyers. Students who receive an unfair acknowledgement of their qualifications will have a poor level of legal knowledge, and professional skills. This reputation spreads throughout the Russian legal profession, and the adverse publicity is not easy to improve. If the number of such "lawyers" increases, the problem will become critical for the general outlook of the legal profession.

Another critical problem in the law school admissions process is the limited number of schools to which a student can apply. With each law school having a separate entrance exam, it is practically impossible to apply to more than one or two schools.

Several problems stem from this one root. First, many schools have limited spots in popular faculties (majors), such as law. Because a student can only realistically take a couple of exams, many worthy students apply to only top schools and then find themselves not admitted to any law school at all. Second, all but the top law schools have an artificially limited number of candidates.

Students have limit options for exploring the quality and diversity of law schools. Some law schools have a general approach to juridical issues, while others are investigating one legal issue very heavily. Sometimes, entering students do not know about the diversity of different schools. Other times, students know about the differences, but still must limit their selection because of the difficulty in applying. As the result all students want to apply to one or two famous places. A top student who wants to study, for example, environmental law, might forgo applying to a school with a strong program in that area-instead pinning his hopes on entering Moscow State University. If he is turned down for Moscow State he doesn't enter law school that year. He has no ability to take both exams.

It is also difficult to apply to schools in remote locations. Good students are not always located in Moscow or St. Petersburg, where the top name schools are situated. These provincial students must travel to the major cities to undergo an expensive, risky and difficult admissions process. Thus, students from Russia's provinces have difficulty entering top schools.

This limitation on applications makes it harder for new/unknown schools to get good students. Top students, as well as their parents, who are paying for private entrance exam tutors and the law school itself, become very conservative. They will neither apply nor invest into the new/unknown schools because to do so precludes the possibility of admission to more famous places. Students from Moscow and St. Petersburg do not want to leave their home cities for an admissions exam. Therefore, schools in other locations do not always get the applicants with the highest level of education and necessary skills. This heavily influences the general look of the new school and diminishes its image. (On the other hand this is also the fault of the schools, which do not publicize themselves very often. It is difficult to understand their specialties and is hard to make a choice.)

Recently, steps have been taken to correct some admissions problems by standardizing entrance exams, but these steps are going too slowly. There was an initiative in the Ministry of Education last year to implement a standardized admissions system throughout Russia. The idea was to make the final tests in the high schools as the entrance tests to college. The process has slowed down due to the lack of money. However, negotiations were held last year with several Western funds for the purpose of financing the entrance "test" program. Practically, Russia is a large country and it will be very difficult to implement a nationwide system within the short time period. However, the idea of such tests as the British "A" levels, or the American SAT or LSAT would be a welcome change.


Despite inexpensive and sometimes free university education, financing a legal education is still very difficult for students.

Students are paid by the state for their study, but stipends are very low. The maximum a student can receive for full time study is 600 Rubles (approximately $24 per month). Students must work while studying in order to survive. Russian students do not have any privileges while they study. There were some student assistance programs announced in previous years, but they have remained declarations, as they cannot be implemented in the present economic environment.

Many institutes established departments where students must pay to study. Additionally, law schools ask for annual advance payments with no refund or reimbursement guaranteed in the case of any unexpected events. At the same time, there is nowhere the student can take a loan for education (i.e. with the low interest rate and for 5-6 year or longer period of repayment). Before Russia's economic crisis, the Ministry of Education was proposing an initiative to develop and implement an education loan program. This program was under discussion with the larger Russian banks--all of which are now either bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy. Thus, needed loans are a long way off for Russian students.

Another financial hardship for law students is the lack of tax breaks. If the student is working he/she has to pay high income taxes and then, from the rest of his/her money, to pay for tuition. Tax exemptions for tuition are badly needed.


We will begin our discussion of the education process by looking at the courses and finish by looking at testing methods.


Usually at Russian law schools students do not have the right to choose courses, subjects they want to study. This is a positive aspect because there are many important subjects to be taught, and required courses can insure the consistency of students' fundamental knowledge. Those who are at the beginning of their legal education can not always make the right course decisions.

A negative aspect of this, however, is that in the 4th or 5th year students have enough knowledge but are not able to influence the education process by choosing disciplines. We believe that students at their higher levels should have more flexibility in selecting their courses.

There is also no opportunity for students to chose foreign languages they prefer to study, which harms self-motivation and final results. Young people have sufficient knowledge to choose the language they want to study, because they study languages in high school. For those who study international law, proficiency in at least one foreign language is required because not all necessary information is translated into Russian. However, sometimes students are required to study the language of an uninteresting country. Therefore students should be given a choice of language.

Another major problem that students face is that courses are not integrated. Students are given no introductory course before starting to study different subjects. Such a program could make the choice of majors and courses easier. Moreover no introductory lectures are given before starting to study new courses in Russian law schools. Thus the connection between courses is not always clear, which detriments the understanding of the whole structure.

Russian law schools require many non-legal subjects. The connection between law and some required courses (such as Philosophy and Humanities) is not clear. Accordingly more careful blending of legal and non-legal topics would improve the curriculum.

Legal education in Russia gives students an excellent theoretical background, but does not cover practical knowledge. Almost all courses at law schools are theory-based. Of course, students grasp the importance of the theory, and this helps them to understand the structure of law and gives them a good start for legal practice. But the lack of practical classes results in unprofessional application of those legal theories. Thus more practical courses are needed.

Among the above-mentioned practical courses are negotiations, moot court and legal writing (including contract drafting). Russian law schools pay no attention to students' abilities to write different kinds of legal documents. Accordingly one of the most important skills for lawyers can not be developed and improved while studying in law schools; young lawyers' professional qualifications do not meet all their employers' requirements; and very often the new graduate must spend additional time and money to get this necessary knowledge. Thus more attention should be given to teaching legal writing courses in law schools.


The process of examining students' knowledge should be revised towards the form of exam that reflects only students' knowledge and extraneous factors. Currently exams are too subjective. Usually, exams are taken face to face with the professor, orally. Thus teachers' private attitudes influences grades. For example, those who attend classes regularly and sit in front of the professor get higher grades even if their exam results are not good. This tendency of paying too much attention to attendance results in a careless attitude toward lectures-students attend but do not listen.

Too much emphasis is given to oral skills. Those who do not speak well get poor results even if their real knowledge meets all the requirements. Of course, an excellent and persuasive manner of speaking is one or the most important qualities for lawyers. However, to make the exams more balanced it is better to implement a mixed oral and written form.

Further, purely oral exams do not give enough time to see the students' real knowledge. Usually professors have no more than 15 minutes for examining each student. Nevertheless, students are given about 30-45 minutes for the exam preparation, (which is often enough to clandestinely copy unknown information from textbooks or from other sources). All this makes the process like a lottery. In order to make the exams fair the whole process should be revised.


Law professors, like other teachers in Russia, suffer from abysmally low salaries, which result in their not having enough time for students, nor enough time to keep up to date in their fields. Good teachers leave and only older ones are left.

Salary level directly affects quality of legal education in Russia's universities. Low salaries do not attract the best people and do not motivate teachers to work hard and to bring out all the inner potential of their students. The main priority of Russian university teachers is just to read lectures, not to create an atmosphere where students may show their intellectual abilities.

At the same time, teachers are not growing from a professional point of view, as they do not aim to increase the level of law school teaching. The objective of legal education is unified professional growth for teachers, together with students, for serious study of legal sciences. However, motivation for this kind of growth is very low. Russian law professors are not trying to make the educational process more interesting. Their main argument is: "We are getting a salary only for reading lectures to you, not for making the educational process more interesting".

Many Russian law professors can not afford to update their legal knowledge because good legal treatises and commentaries cost twice as much as other literature. This makes the educational process more difficult for both teachers and students. Rather than simply going to a library, both professors and students have to spend considerable time in finding sources of recently issued normative acts of different Russian governmental bodies.

Russia's law professors often work in two or sometimes three universities for the normal security of their families. Also, many law professors in Russia's universities are also State service employees. Work in other places causes many problems, such as teachers often being late for the classes or sometimes never turning up at all to teach students (giving the distance between workplaces as excuses for such behavior). They are often unable to leave their other job in time to avoid being late for the university. This behavior and attitude, while it may be hardly avoidable, also negatively reflects on the educational process.

Professors who work in several universities and in the State service do not have enough time for properly preparing classes. Often they are just reading a textbook for the students, but this kind of teaching does not impart any new ideas about the subject. Students could read the same textbook at home without attending the classes.

Moreover, teachers working in several places are not devoted to any particular university. These "come and go" professors are mostly concerned about teaching in accordance with the State's standard educational programs. They do not try to escape these "frame" educational programs because they do not have enough time for elaborating teaching projects to broaden their students' world vision and create classroom interest.

Many good law professors leave State universities for the other State or private universities with higher pay; and accordingly the quality of teaching deteriorates in their former universities. Good teachers leave badly run universities. A connection seems to exist between poor university management and the number of teachers leaving a university. Russian legislation allows universities to earn money from business activity and charge students a fee for educational services such as paid faculties, language courses, etc. in order to increase teachers' salaries. Under Article 47 of the law of the Russian Federation "On Education" of January 13, 1996, an educational establishment has the right to carry out commercial activities provided for by its Charter, which including the following activities:

  • selling and leasing of the fixed capital and property;
  • trading in purchased goods and equipment;
  • providing intermediary services;
  • acquiring shares, bonds, and other establishments, (including educational ones) and deriving income (dividends, interest) from them. . .

Therefore, universities with creative management may afford to increase the official rate of salaries for budget (State) organization employees. This rate is established by the Decision of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 309 of March 18, 1999 (905 Rubles-approximately $35 at today's exchange rate--is the highest official salary rate for the highest qualified university professor, excluding additions for academic degrees). This official salary rate depends on the teachers' qualifications and the number of years of work in a particular university. However a well managed institution, with well-organized commercial activities and paid courses, may motivate teachers into staying. Giving them a chance to earn money in the university will result in a more comprehensive and fruitful educational process for both teachers and students.

Because Russian universities' shortage of good university professors, students from such universities find themselves unable to compete in the legal services market after graduation. For example, universities often do not have any qualified foreign language teachers because such teachers prefer to be engaged in private practice. As knowledge of foreign languages is one of the most important requirements for employment in Russia's foreign law firms, many students are unable to pass the first interview with a potential employer. Consequently, students seeking foreign firm employment have to pay from their own resources for taking additional courses.

The exodus of teachers to more lucrative employment has dramatically increased the average age of Russian law professors. Most of the senior professors in Russia's universities are highly qualified professionals, but at the same time many of them have a quite subjective opinion on teaching techniques. They have a harder time perceiving and understanding the rapid changes in Russian political and economic life. Elderly teachers sometimes spend considerable time trying to thrust their political opinions on students instead of studying new legal developments. Many, unfortunately, are cut off from legal practice and unable to provide students with recent information. More young teachers with practical experience are needed.

The unwillingness of older law professors to change old teaching methods is also stunting law students' intellectual growth. These old teaching methods including giving priority to the theoretical study of any legal subject. As it was decades ago, memorization continues to be stressed. Traditional professors find it much easier, for example, to give to the students normative acts to memorize and to ask them to re-tell what they have read. This method does not have a practical basis and bores the students very quickly. Some kind of role-play methods (case study and hypothetical situations) should be used for studying legal subjects so that they are brought nearer to real world situations.


We see many areas for improving the organizational aspects of law school administration. Here we would like to mention some points that seem the most problematic to us:

  1. improving the organization and functions of law school administration;
  2. improving internship organization;
  3. taking steps to reform the selection process for exchange programs; and,
  4. broadening access to books and legal databases.

In Russia students enter university at the age of 16 to 18--right after school. They find themselves in different surroundings and, being immature, naturally feel lost. University education considerably differs from high school. First year students don't have experience of passing the type of exams that university requires. They are not used to participating in seminars. They simply don't know where to look for information required, or what is expected of them in terms of studies.

In this situation some guidance on the educational process would be very helpful. Most law schools have course administrators-people whose job it is to oversee the schedules and academic problems of an individual year of students, and to liaison between the students and the higher administration. Students turn to their law school course administrators trying to find some help and support. However, course administrators generally believe it is not their concern to explain things that are not connected to the course schedule. Participation of the administrators in the educational progress is limited to making a timetable and exam schedule. Therefore, it would be useful if, in place of, or in addition to, the administrators, schools would have trained guidance counselors to help students with the educational process and to advise on other matters.

The second administrative problem is with internships. At the end of the third (sometimes second) and fourth year students are required to take a one month internship; and, at the end of fifth year, they take a three month pre-diploma internship. Law schools are not always able to find placements for student interns. Therefore students have to find a place themselves. This can be problematic, especially nowadays due to the financial crisis. Creating some cooperative programs between law schools, governmental bodies and private firms could be a possible solution. However, for such an internship program to work there should be an interest for governmental bodies and private firms. Such an interest could be, for example, a tax deduction or tax privileges for legal entities that provide a certain amount of places for student internships.

Exchange programs bring us back to the worst aspect of, not only legal education, but also the whole of Russian society -- the problem of corruption. Not many exchange programs exist in Russian universities. Those which do are, in most cases, corrupt because candidate selection is done by the Russian partner. The accepting partners (Western universities) usually choose from applications that are sent to them, or simply accept the candidate chosen for such programs by the Russian partner.

However in a Russian university, to be chosen for such programs students should have connections with the administration or professors. Therefore, the possibility to study in a Western university is given not to the brightest students but to those who have connections. A possible solution for the corruption problem could be an open competition in Russian universities, for which every student can apply by sending his application form directly to the Western universities. Thus, from the beginning, the whole selection process will be controlled by the accepting party. This procedure will help to eliminate corruption and to ensure that the brightest students will be chosen to participate in exchange programs.

The final administrative problem we discuss is difficulties in accessing modern legal information. The most common source of information that Russian students use is books. Although new books are now appearing, they are too expensive for any students who don't have jobs. The law schools don't have enough funds to provide libraries with a sufficient number of new books. Thus, in the libraries students are most likely to find soviet era books. Alternative sources of information are computers and legal databases with recent laws and regulations. But not all schools have computer rooms, and those that do usually don't have legal databases or the Internet. Therefore, simply finding a new law can turn into a real problem for a student. One solution to these problems could be allocating funds to provide libraries with new books and to organize computer centers or connections to the Internet and legal databases.


Given our time constraints, we have outlined just some of the major aspects of Russian legal education problems. Many of the problems mentioned above can not be solved for a significant period of time.

We do not presume to know where Western expertise is best concentrated, but we can make the following suggestions. If American legal experts want to improve the system, they could concentrate on fairness, on helping teachers, and on their special expertise in American and international law. To improve fairness American law school administrators can assist in the admissions process, where the West can provide examples of written entrance exams. Americans law firms and funding agencies can help by providing scholarships that include an independent selection body. The situation of teachers can be helped dramatically by funding research and teaching grants. Finally, American law professors have their greatest expertise in American law, and, together with Russian professors, can help to write materials appropriate to Russian comparative law students. All these solutions are low cost and able to be relatively quickly implemented as a small dam against the immense and lengthy problems that face Russian legal education.

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