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US to support legal training

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090126_05_1.jpg

United States has committed US$12 million to five-year program aiming to improve legal education in the Kingdom and support rule of law

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HENG CHIVOAN

The trophy for the second annual Client Counselling Competition gleams next to participants.

AGAINST a recent, rapid decrease in practising local legal professionals, the United States has pledged US$12 million over five years as part of a training project aimed at improving legal education across the Kingdom.

The USAID program, assisted by the East-West Management Institute and the American Bar Association, was described by Legal Education Specialist Steven Austermiller as a bid to improve the standard of teaching in domestic law schools.

"Traditional lecture formats will be complemented with hands-on practical forums and debates. This type of teaching gives students the ability to problem-solve, present on-the-spot legal analysis and to have effective communication in the law realm," he said Friday, adding that the program included ethics classes.

In September, the government was forced to speed up the legal graduate program to plug a widespread deficiency in judges.

The Supreme Council of the Magistracy appointed 55 new judicial graduates as judges and deputy prosecutors at 21 municipal and provincial courts across the Kingdom. Currently, there are still only 647 lawyers in Cambodia, which experts say is not enough to cater to a growing need for legal counsel.

The announcement of the funding, which will build on a previous USAID training program, came as law students nationwide participated in the second annual Client Counselling Competition, held Friday in Phnom Penh. The winners of the competition ­­- Tan Tepi Kanika and Theng Tith Maria from the Royal University of Law and Economics (RULE) - will travel to the University of Las Vegas in the United States, representing Cambodia in the international version of the competition.

Despite participant numbers doubling from last year, many participants expressed a desire to practise overseas.

"Many students want to study internationally. Once I have finished, I would like to become a diplomat," said law student Ratana, 20, from RULE.

But the president of the Cambodian Bar Association, Chiv Songhak, said he was not worried that law students would be drawn to international law firms over local ones.

"Cambodia provides good opportunities for law students. There is no need to go overseas," he said.

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