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Ukraine: Graduates Create Foundation For Law-abiding Society

  • Lily Hyde

Kyiv, 10 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- It is exam time, and the Ukrainian Center for Legal Studies is crowded with first and second year students passing tips on this or that examiner's technique.

The center has only been operating for two years. During recent years, law has become one of the most popular study areas for students hoping to profit from new openings in corporate law.

There were five law schools in the Soviet Ukraine, there are now over 120, according to the center's acting director Halyna Freeland. Most of the center's students envisage jobs in business law.

But Freeland places the center on a broader plane. "What interests our students most, because it's the most immediate, is the possibility of working in private, Western-type legal practice and giving advice to national and international corporations," she said. "But we also see our students and young instructors becoming specialists who work with government commissions on the drafting of new laws. We hope they will be part of the process of transforming Ukraine."

A product of collaboration between Kyiv's state Taras Shevchenko University and the independent non-profit Ukrainian Legal Foundation, the center offers a three-year post-graduate course in a "new conception of Ukrainian law," as student Nadia Simenova puts it.

Students with a first degree in any subject can choose to specialize in either commercial, European, or constitutional and municipal law. Qualified lawyers can study a one-year course, while instructors from other law schools can join short winter courses.

According to Freeland, courses in European law and constitutional and municipal law are almost unknown in Ukraine, while few other schools can offer a really comprehensive course in commercial law. "The intention was to prepare the specialties that we thought were needed for the country but that were not being taught," she said.

Within commercial law, students learn subjects new to Ukraine: bankruptcy, securities and investment law, contract law. A really innovative course is in intellectual and industrial property rights, an area in which Ukraine is lacking knowledgeable and experienced lawyers despite the growing number of disputes over trademarks, patents and author's rights. Graduates of the new course will hold an additional diploma in intellectual property law - the first of its kind in Ukraine.

Students who choose the European law specialty will learn from the "four or five people in Ukraine who have advanced degrees in European law and teach at this university," said Freeland. Constitutional and municipal law is taught by constitutional court judges and advisors, civil law is taught almost exclusively by those who drafted the new civil code.

Municipal law, which covers all aspects of local government, remains unpopular with students who, Freeland says, after growing up in a centralized economy still have not quite grasped its essence, involving as it does the still-unfamiliar principle of devolution. She herself predicts that it will be one of the most critical legal areas in future. European law she views as another key area.

The center plans to send many graduates abroad, where they are expected to prepare a course, in return for a three year teaching contract at the center. "The legal system is changing every day so they have to know how to learn so they can stay current and stay good lawyers," said Freeland.

The current law is out of date, still maintaining Soviet rules on property and non-property relations with the purpose of "building socialism."

The study at the center cost an equivalent of $2,000 a month and the program is funded by fees and by the Ukrainian Legal Foundation. The entry is relatively easy, but staying the course is not. "It's not difficult to be accepted but it's difficult to continue because the subjects are very difficult to understand with the mentality that Communist education developed," said Nadia Simenova, "Law reform is a challenge to the way we think."