PROBLEMS OF LEGAL EDUCATION IN RUSSIA
- Tatiana Levina, 4th Year Law , State
University of Humanitarian Sciences
- Maria Lizorkina, 2nd Year Law, Moscow
- 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
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
With this in mind, we now proceed to discussing concrete
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
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.
THE EDUCATIONAL PROCESS
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
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
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
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
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
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:
- improving the organization and functions of law
- improving internship organization;
- taking steps to reform the selection process for
exchange programs; and,
- 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
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
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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