Week 9: Project Progress

One definite difference between Europe and the United States is the work schedule. Americans wear long hours like a badge of pride. Late nights at the office at the office are something to be flaunted as a measure of worth. This is not as true in Europe, and come summer, Lithuanian professionals start disappearing from the city for extended holidays. Unfortunately, this can have some frustrating consequences if your summer internship requires communication with these professionals. There have been some difficulties contacting lawyers to discuss the pro bono project with. Similarly, we have had limited success contacting willing representatives from Caritas, a Catholic social service organization that helps facilitate pro bono access in other countries and professors from Vilnius University to discuss corruption research and the generation of additional ties between VU and William and Mary. One of the bitter things about an internship is that you are unable to see every project through to its completion before disembarking on new adventures. I plan to continue communicating with VIL IAS after I leave Lithuania and, while my time will necessarily be limited, I hope to continue helping where I can from across the ocean.

This week did see the start of several new projects. First, there is a project related to training judges, prosecutors, and private practitioners. One unforeseen hurdle to this is that judges and prosecutors often try to avoid private attorneys outside for fear of apparent impropriety. As actual corruption levels decrease, maybe this practice will as well. For now, corruption in the legal system is still a very real problem in Lithuania, and so certain measures must be taken. The goal for this project is to provide training related to surveillance issues, which is a very hot button topic in the European Union. Ideally, this training module can be replicated in EU countries outside of Lithuania. We are working with the Lithuanian representative to the European Court of Human Rights for this project. This training is incredibly important due to the amount of international accords that EU countries are beholden to, an issue that is not as relevant in the United States. A Lithuanian judge may be intimately familiar with Lithuanian law regarding privacy and family life, but he or she may be less familiar with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights governing the same and the case law surrounding it. Further, it is not always clear when an international agreement may come into play. For example, there is an interesting case in the Lithuanian courts right now involving a Lithuanian man who has had preventive measures taken against him in the form of police monitoring of his financial contributions to ensure that he does not contribute to criminal organizations. When he attempted to discover why he was suspected of doing so, he was told that the information was confidential and that the police were afraid that revealing the information may negatively impact their investigation into those criminal organizations. One question in the case is whether Article 8 applies, and whether there has been meaningful intereference with the suspect's right to private life. Questions like these can be difficult for judges without training in international law.

Second, the director of the Institute recently became an editor of a well-known legal periodical (in Lithuania, legal periodicals are not edited by students - in fact, the very idea is treated as almost absurd to the point where some Lithuanian lawyers view American law reviews as jokes). He is considering pivoting the journal to speak more to a laymen's perspective. He expressed the view that legal articles in Lithuania are not written for practicing lawyers, who do not read them. Nor are they written for the public's understanding, because they are too technical. Instead, they are written for the authors' own name recognition, and so have little real world value in his eyes. One idea is turning the journal into a form of casebook. The casebooks that are ubiquitious in American law schools do not exist in Lithuania. As a civil law country, case law is certainly less important, but it is still studied by law students and lawyers. The new permutation of the journal may have short excerpts of recent important cases, a la a legal casebook, followed by plain spoken analysis of the case, a la SCOTUSblog. This would seem to fill a niche that is currently unfilled in Lithuania.

Finally, the victim support project rolls on. We are attempting to set up a specialized legal clinic at Vilnius University, and later other universities, that would focus on victim support. Ideally, it would be interdisciplinary, bringing in law students but also students from disciplines such as psychology and sociology. Vilnius University currently has one legal clinic, and it does not engage the majority of students who are interested in other areas of the law not dealt with by that clinic. This makes sense, and is one the main reasons for the many specialized legal clinics in the US, which are often popular among students. Tapping into that need here seems like a fruitful way to help victims and students at the same time. I am also researching what services are currently being provided for victims in other European countries.

Often my value here simply comes from knowing how things work in the United States. This can be a blessing and a curse. Many times I have suggested an idea based on American practices and have had it shot down immediately as something that could never work in Lithuania for various reasons. I have previously written about the difficulty in translating American experience in pro bono work to Lithuania. But other times, such as in the above examples, the American experience can be a valuable one when molded to meet the specific needs of Lithuania. The European Commission when doling out funding can be too focused on taking experiences from western Europe and transporting them to eastern Europe, but learning lessons from other countries can be very important in moving the world forward as a whole.