Therese Prince, a legal adviser at the Law Society, and Hannah Child, a trainee at DWF talk about their recent trip Rwanda delivering legal training and capacity building.
Can you tell us a bit about the project and the work you were doing?
Hannah and I are members of the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF). As an organisation, the LCF is committed, to “applying God’s justice on the ground” and working for good laws globally. The LCF has built connections and relationships around the world, particularly in East Africa. This project was part of a pilot program to work with our international partners to develop and administer a program of legal professional training and capacity building.
A team of eight lawyers visited Rwanda and Uganda for a little over two weeks. The team comprised a high court judge (retired), barristers, solicitors (including a trainee) and a law lecturer led by the LCF’s International Director.
In Rwanda the training covered several areas, including risk management, data protection, client care and confidentiality. There was also a comparative criminal law stream (Rwanda is a mixed civil/common law jurisdiction). We also facilitated a Women in Law symposium. Similar areas were covered in Uganda, with the addition of a public law seminar focused on using judicial review as part of strategic litigation.
What sort of organisations or groups were you working alongside / training?
In Rwanda we teamed up with Lawyers of Hope and the Rwanda Bar Association. Lawyers of Hope is an amazing organization that provides pro bono legal services. They have also created a community legal training program, which supports the provision of legal services in rural areas.
We also had the opportunity to facilitate a leadership weekend in Gisenyi. The focus was to encourage and equip the executive and trustee teams of the East African CLEAR international branches. We were joined by teams from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, DRC, Burundi and Mozambique (by Skype).
In Uganda we partnered with the Ugandan Christian Lawyers Fraternity and met with several organisations including Laspnet, the Uganda Law Society and the British High Commission/DFID.
How did you hear about it and what prompted you to get involved?
Hannah: I first heard about LCF when they did a talk at DWF, they promoted a similar trip which I attended in 2016. I had the most amazing time but was eager to come back and work with other lawyers to provide some training in areas the local partners had requested.
Therese: I recall hearing others talk about previous trips they had been on and I thought it sounded interesting and put myself forward to go and learn more about what some of the challenges our global colleagues are dealing with daily. I was keen to be part of this year’s team because I think that it’s important to be able to share knowledge and best practice. It’s not everyday that you get to use your legal skills in this way in another jurisdiction.
How did you prepare for the trip?
Hannah: In preparation for the trip I worked on a presentation on risk management, working closely with the other lawyers attending the trip. I also spent time speaking to my church, friends and family about the trip. This was to build awareness of the trip and gain valuable input in what to expect but also to support my fundraising, this involved running a 10k and as a non-runner it was quite a challenge, but it worked well.
I also read lots of books into the history of Rwanda, the way justice is administered, and the challenges currently being faced.
Therese: I spent some time learning about the history and culture of Rwanda and Uganda and spoke to friends and colleagues who had been previously. As this was a ‘Justice Mission’ I did some reading around Christian legal ministry and tried to understand how the two work together practically. We also had an orientation day which helped us to understand what we were signing up for and gave us a chance to meet each other.
For the legal training, I researched and reviewed relevant Law Society practice notes as well as guidance from the International Bar Association in relation to client care issues.
What challenges did you face whilst there? (Was a language a barrier?)
Hannah: The challenges during our training session where the language barriers, some in Rwanda spoke predominately French and others Kinyarwanda. It involved multiple translations which was difficult when presenting. I think something that was a challenge that I hadn’t really considered during my preparation was my own preconceptions.
Therese: Yes, there were language barriers. There were also some cultural barriers and, although I hadn’t anticipated it, I had difficulty with some of the food options. We didn’t have all of the home comforts, for example regular access to the internet and there were times when that presented a challenge.
What did you gain / learn from your experience? Were there any surprises along the way?
Hannah: I learnt so much from my trip, both professionally and personally. Due to the makeup of the team we were able to support training both on criminal law but also on commercial risk management. Working with the lawyers on our team and in the location, I learnt a lot about the commercial challenges in East Africa and was able to support this with my own skills in risk management. Even though I had been to both countries I had moments where I was really surprised in my views. This was evidenced in Rwanda when running training for woman in the law. I had some preconceptions that the challenges they would be facing would be similar to those expressed here and in Europe. This wasn’t the case and it was helpful to be challenged in this way. I think another challenge was the desire to do more than we had the resource to do, whether that was financially or in a time capacity. I was struck by the dedication, skill and passion of the lawyers with whom we were working.
Therese: I learnt so much about myself as a lawyer and as a person. I realised that I am resilient and capable of more than I sometimes give myself credit. I grew in confidence. I also gained newfound appreciation for our (imperfect) justice system. There are so many freedoms and benefits that we often take for granted that are not afforded to others around the world.
What was your personal highlight?
Hannah: I have too many highlights really but one from each location. In Rwanda it was meeting the clients who have been helped by Lawyers of Hope and seeing their lives impacted. In Uganda a personal highlight was attending court and seeing the way justice was being administered, this was followed by a meeting with a senior policeman who over saw a station, listening to his passion, challenges and the way that UCLF paralegals where not only helping the clients but also the police was very insightful.
Therese: Recently I’ve become more conscious of the importance of representation. A personal highlight for me was attending this trip as a black female lawyer of Jamaican heritage and shattering some of the misconceptions and biases (unconscious or otherwise) that people may hold. I was also greatly impacted by the visit to the Kefa Academy. The boys were so respectful and welcoming.
How do you think the trip will affect your approach to your future work in the UK?
Hannah: The trip will impact my work in the future as I hope to mirror the passion and commitment of the lawyers I have met. I have seen the importance of commercial law and how it can facilitate and is linked to wider justice issues. I think this has made me a more holistic trainee and as such a lawyer.
Therese: The trip has reinforced the idea that we should take nothing for granted. My job is focused on advising the Law Society on it’s strategic work to promote, protect and uphold the rule of law and access to justice and the independence and sustainability of the legal profession. There were elements of our trip that showed me what life is like when safeguards are not in place. I am approaching my work with new vigor and passion.
Do you have any tips for other junior lawyers interested in taking part in an international twinning project?
Hannah: I would massively encourage it, listen to those on the team with you they have a wealth of knowledge that will massively impact. The partners that you are working with will want to know your opinion whether that’s on a legal matter or a point of discussion so come eager to learn and share and don’t be worried about making mistakes or not knowing enough. Also, just embrace the cultural differences, whether that’s the food, language or climate.
Did you encounter any differences/ similarities in the legal system which stood out?
Therese: Yes, there were differences and similarities. Uganda is a common law jurisdiction, so much of their laws, practice and procedures match ours. Rwanda’s in a slightly different position with a mixed civil/common law system, but again. Some areas that appear to be consistent throughout East Africa that were different to ours were the very heavy restrictions on advertising. So for example, here and in NY (the other jurisdiction I’m qualified in) there is a lot of focus on building your personal brand and reputation as a firm and as an individual lawyer. However, because of the restrictions on advertising the lawyers expressed challenges they faced with building their client base. Another, sad reality was not only was legal aid limited, it was non-existent. We had an opportunity to meet with LASPNET and the Ugandan Law Society to discuss the challenges they faced as anyone without the finances (except for in limited criminal circumstances) would not have access to a lawyer unless there were pro bono services available. During a police station visit we heard of the difficulties investigating alleged sexual assaults as a result of a lack of funding and a requirement for victims to cover the cost of medical examinations.
Therese, what support did you provide to project volunteers who are not qualified?
As mentioned above we had a very diverse and experienced team and so we really did learn a lot from each other. I did have the time however to do a little bit of career mentoring. We spent time with young lawyers and students in both Rwanda and Uganda and I was happy to share some survival tips with Hannah. I find, however, that an encouraging word goes a long way.