Law School Struggles to Keep Pace With Changing Times

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

THERE is boisterous banter in the lobby of the Law Faculty at Moscow State University, as the undergraduates continue to savor their student days despite the economic and political chaos in Russia.

The atmosphere isn't so carefree in the office of Mikhail Marchenko, dean of the Law Faculty. That's because the tumult buffeting society has turned previously held notions of the law in Russia on their head.

Mr. Marchenko and his staff are now struggling to update the curriculum in order to keep pace with rapidly changing events. Russia's process of democratization is opening up legal areas that were ignored and considered unnecessary during the days of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union.

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"For a long time criminal justice dominated," explains Marchenko. "Now civil law is becoming a priority, including civil rights, corporate and banking law, and other spheres."

Marchenko readily acknowledges that the Law Faculty is ill-equipped to handle its burgeoning educational responsibilities. Perhaps the biggest problem is that Russia doesn't have up-to-date and well-defined laws in the areas of business and banking, making it tough to teach students interested in these fields.

But the Law Faculty also has to contend with a lack of adequate textbooks, a dearth of professors equipped to teach the new courses, and a shortage of funds.

"We try to steer a middle course, combining the teaching of current laws but also relying a lot on common sense and the experience of others - especially the American experience and the British experience," Marchenko says.

To help ease the educational crisis, Marchenko has established close contacts with the law schools at Stanford and Duke Universities in the United States.

At least one visiting professor from the West lectures at the Law Faculty at all times, he adds.

In the end, however, much of Marchenko's effort to produce top-notch lawyers for the future is wasted. The law as a profession is far from lucrative, even by Russian standards, and many of the Law Faculty's recent graduates aren't practicing. Instead, they are heading for high-paying jobs in the budding business sector, according to Marchenko.

"It's a shame, but the best people are going into commercial structures," he says.

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