One of the many ways that the Strengthening Ecuadorian Justice Project works in the legal realm is through support to legal clinics focused on the criminal system. The SEJP has chosen four clinics to foster, managed both by local university law departments and by civil society organizations, and covering both Quito and Guayaquil. This past Thursday and Friday, the SEJP contracted for César Reyes, a Colombian with expertise in education and public speaking about legal systems, to give a presentation and workshop for representatives of the four clinics at a local hotel. Each group had three representatives, a mix of both management and current law students. Here is a snapshot taken during the workshop:
The workshop covered tactics for improving the quality of legal services and legal services institutions. In the partnership between SEJP and the clinics, each of the four must develop a management model plan in conjunction with the SEJP's coordinators. I was lucky enough to sit in on César's presentation for most of the second day. Even though I have yet to participate in one of the legal clinics with which W&M works, a lot of the topics covered were really applicable to the practice of law as a whole. These included discussing the role of lawyers in social support (do we simply provide clients the answers to their legal questions, or should we be steering them toward other social services as well?); how to make sure that students and the newest lawyers are getting the most valuable and meaningful experience out of their work; how to expand services and area coverage to markets or sectors of society not currently covered; how to develop feedback and evaluation systems to improve the quality of legal services; how to manage clients, cases, employees, and an office within an institution; and how to develop the best goals for and policies of excellence. Listening to the various participants' opinions and the expertise that César offered was very interesting. Here's a picture of César with María Eugenia, a lawyer and one of the project coordinators from our office:
I also learned a few interesting tidbits about characteristics and problems endemic to Ecuadorian and Colombian justice systems. For example. César and the participants helped me gather information about salaries. In Colombia, both prosecutors and public defenders make $24,000 - $30,000 annual salary (but keep in mind, they do not have $120,000 of law school debt...). In Ecuador, prosecutors make the same, while public defenders make $14,000 annually. The public defender and legal services fields in Ecuador are still very much developing, and one of the problems they often have is with resources. Defense counsel often does not have the same access to technicians and experts whose knowledge could recreate accident scenes, prove the viability of a witness's testimony based on visibility and distance, et cetera. César explained the structure of the more-advanced Colombian PDO, which has four sectors: one for selection and integration of public defenders, one for continued training (seemingly their CLE department), one dedicated to statistical and services quality analysis, and one technical department helping to find all the expertise I mentioned as lacking above. It was also really interesting to get a closer glimpse at the reality of the legal system in Latin America. For the sake of fun visual content, here is a picture of César handing a completion diploma to one of the participants:
I am very glad I got to go. I finally was able to see the SEJP in action, in one of the workshops about which I have translated so many news stories and press bulletins. I also learned a lot more about the issues facing legal clinics and the justice system here, and how they can be similar to problems lawyers face in the States. Lastly, it was definitely worth it for the delicious and traditional Ecuadorian lunch we had in the hotel restaurant afterward. Here's a picture of some of the participants at the conclusion:
Stay tuned - blogs about my weekend trip to Bellavista coming very soon!