Iryna Kanya and Yuriy Shvab, students of the UCU Law School, won at the Ukrainian level in the 2019 Olympics in Legal Clinics and Consulting (held at the Ostroh Academy National University) and now will represent Ukraine at the Brown-Mosten International Client Consultation Competition in Dublin, Ireland.
The theme of this year’s competition is robbery, stealing, and embezzlement. The competition includes consulting with clients (actors who come in with a certain “legal problem”) and lawyers (students in the competition) before a college of judges. With 11 criteria, the college of judges will assess the quality of consultation (successful communication, posing questions, determining and analyzing problems, the client’s goal and motive, proposing various solutions to the problem, team work, post-interview, analysis of social and ethical points of the problem, etc.)
Khrystyna Kovtsun, manager of the legal clinic of the UCU Law School, explained that, even before the beginning of the academic year, she planned to have a team from the legal clinic participate in the Olympics. But preparation for the competition started less than a month before it began. This is because the scenario, according to the rules, is published two weeks before the competition.
“The essence of the competition is not only to demonstrate a proper solution to a legal problem. The students’ soft skills are accentuated. That is, the structuring of the interview, rules of proper communication, determining the legal problem, clarifying the client’s goals, offering various ways to solve the problem. We work on all these things at the legal clinic every day. And we work with participants in military actions and people who have suffered as a result of war,” explained Khrystyna Kovtsun. “The biggest problem is the theme of the competition. This year it’s robbery, stealing, and embezzlement, which is far from the specialization of our legal clinic (legal help for participants of the Russia-Ukraine war and members of their families). Nevertheless, mobilizing all our efforts, enlisting the support of the director of the Master’s in Law in Human Rights Program, Svitlana Khyliuk, who helped us orient ourselves to possible varieties of legal problems of future clients (actors), we appropriately prepared.”
Khrystyna Kovtsun also explained the stages of the competition:
“A team with two students from a legal clinic takes part in the competition. They are in the role of professional lawyers. The students only know that some client will come to them, for example, the assistant of a national deputy and law-enforcement agencies telephoned him. That is, they have to be ready for any development of events. Then a client (actor) comes to them for ‘consultation,’ with the scenario of a legal problem. In addition to the legal problem, the client can have, let’s say, emotional instability, because he’s worried about his problem. And the task of the competition participants is to establish communication, advise of all the risks, calm him down, and ask the right questions, for often the clients will on purpose give much unnecessary information. The college of judges watches all this and assesses the work of the lawyers (students) with 11 criteria.
“In this way, the competition trains the students in very necessary skills: communication with the client, team work, the ability to separate the necessary legal points to solve the client’s problem from a great amount of information, etc. Unfortunately, it is not possible to learn this all theoretically. Practical training is necessary. From my experience at the legal clinic, I can assure that the biggest problem now is the inability to establish communication. Often a student has great knowledge in the field of law, but, when communicating with a person who has come to the lawyer looking for help, gets confused and cannot communicate effectively. Even more so, they can’t determine the legal problem, ask the right questions, structure the problem, and, as a consequence, they can’t offer the right solution to the problem. In this way, the competition gives an opportunity to polish the law students’ soft skills, which are very important in a lawyer’s work.”
Student Iryna Kanya shared her impressions from participating in the completion and said that, in addition to the legal experience, she enjoyed each round played: “This was not only helpful for me, but a very interesting experience, and I really liked the format of the competition. Of most value was the feedback from the judges after each round played, which gave an understanding of what was worth working on more.”
The student explained that it is now difficult to say how difficult the Ukrainian national level was, because, after such positive results, it seems that it was all very easy. But, in fact, the scenarios given to the participants two weeks before the competition were complicated. The fact is that they were not specific, extensive, with limited information for preparation. There were two sentences of two scenarios for the semifinals and one sentence of a scenario for the final in the English language. In this way, the participants had some indication of what problems the potential clients (actors) might present to them.
“For example, one of the scenarios was something like this: ‘A businessman has telephoned your secretary. In the conversation, the person said he is desperate about an urgent matter involving the police.’ And so we need to foresee a number of variations of what the client potentially might need help with, in order to provide the best consultation. That’s the kind of assignment for the Olympics. There were a total of three rounds: two semifinals and one final. So we need to provide consultation for clients who gave more details about their problems. The judges assessed establishing communication, asking the right questions, whether all the information was received from the client, the legal analysis of the problem, and other aspects. In general, there were 11 criteria,” Kanya explained.
“With scenarios like these, the variations were countless, so we studied in detail various corrupt acts, legal violations, and judicial practice. We also modelled situations from various types of clients (aggressive, quiet, etc.). We tried to prepare the largest possible list of situations and foresee what kind of problem our client could bring in. There were some five types of crimes and six types of administrative legal violations for each of which we analyzed the judicial practice. We looked for information on already existing real cases, prepared a list of possible questions that the client might ask. And we thought about how we could solve the problem. In addition, our client could be a victim or guilty of committing an offense. That is, there were about 30 variations… We couldn’t have done it without the manager of our legal clinic, Khrystyna Kovtsun, and the consultation of the director of the Master’s in Law in Human Rights Program, Svitlana Khyliuk.”
Iryna’s partner, student Yuriy Shvab, explained that this was the first competition of its kind in his educational experience, and his impressions were all positive:
“Before the Olympics, I knew practically nothing about legal consultation, but, after participating in the competition, I understood that this is not simply providing legal advice but, above all, knowing how to communicate with clients, understanding moral and ethical aspects of the situation, and learning how to work in a team,” said Shvab. “As for the difficulty of the Olympics, though the semifinal was a good warm-up for us, we were sweating at the finals, because our competitors were last year’s winners of the Olympics at the Ostroh Academy National University and also some fairly strong participants from Ivan Franko University in Lviv. The victory has motivated us much and we promise that we will make maximum efforts to worthily represent UCU and Ukraine at the international level.”
The next level, the international competition in Dublin, will happen on 3-6 April. The national rounds were held as close as possible to the rules of the international competitions – the assessment criteria and the competition was conducted in the English language – so there will be no essential differences in the international competitions except for a greater amount of rounds that need to be played. The theme of the competition will also be different: theft, including robbery, stealing, and embezzlement, but not bribery or corruption.
Text: Oksana Levantovych