The Rule of Law Without Lawyers: American Legal Reformers and the Cambodian Lawyer Shortage
55 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2014
Date Written: April 12, 2014
Cambodia has a dire shortage of lawyers, commonly attributed to the murder of nearly all its legal professionals by the Khmer Rouge. Fewer than fifteen lawyers survived the brutal regime’s targeting of intellectuals and professionals and remained in the country when the regime fell in 1979. The atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, however, do not explain the continuing severity of the shortage of lawyers and legal services in Cambodia. Today, hundreds of Cambodian students receive undergraduate and graduate degrees in law each year but cannot become practicing attorneys without paying a $15,000 bribe to pass Cambodia’s bar exam. Only 35 to 70 candidates pass (in years that a bar exam is held at all) and can thus enroll the Lawyer Training Center, which has a monopoly on the training required for admission to practice law. The resulting dearth of lawyers deprives poor and rural populations of access to counsel in a country where the authoritarian government and elites allied with it make selective use of the law to maintain power.
This Article argues the lawyer shortage is an under-recognized aspect of the failure of the international community’s considerable efforts to build the rule of law in Cambodia, and a further example of problems scholars have identified in the dominant approach to building democracy in developing and post-conflict countries. Examining one element of what Stephen Golub has termed the “rule-of-law orthodoxy” — efforts to improve the skills and knowledge of lawyers in developing and transitioning legal systems — this Article argues the efforts of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative risk empowering and legitimizing a protectionist Bar Association with a history of corruption and intimidation of those who challenge the government. More broadly, the Cambodian example raises questions about USAID-funded rule of law programs throughout the world that promote U.S.-style adversarial legal systems and lawyer monopolies.
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