Lawers play a crucial role in preventing and resolving disputes. In recent times, this profession has expanded its influence and impact within Cambodia, boasting 2,365 lawyers this year compared to last year’s count of 2,126.

Clients typically seek a professional defence and value the integrity of their lawyers. 

Attorney Lor Kimgech tells The Post that a lawyer serves as the representative for the client during the trial. With over a decade of experience in the legal profession, Kimgech suggests that in order to attract more clients, lawyers should broaden their legal expertise by actively participating in court proceedings. 

“If an individual is perceived as a highly responsible lawyer, they will likely be sought after to defend cases in the future. However, lawyers are not permitted to advertise themselves in the press as proficient,” he says.

Kimgech says that engaging with the media, which involves his participation in publicising the law, serves as an effective means to share his legal knowledge. He notes the distinction between lawyers and sellers, highlighting that while sellers can actively seek and call clients, lawyers are prohibited from such practices.

Din Siden, a spokesperson for the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia (BAKC), shares the vital role of lawyers in collaborating with the government to uphold the judiciary, a “cornerstone” of the rule of law. This involvement includes representing clients in various tribunals and stages of legal proceedings, spanning civil, commercial, administrative, labour and social affairs.

Lawyers also contribute by offering consultations, drafting legal letters and acting as mediators as assigned by a party or judge, Siden adds.

“The BAKC and lawyers diligently endeavour to promote legal awareness through the facilitation of seminars, three-question programmes, Bayon Radio and Television [BTV] legal debates, roundtable discussions and the publication of the BAKC Lawyer Bulletin,” he says.

Legal advancements

Siden notes that the BAKC has observed an enhancement in the professional practice of lawyers, attributed to various factors. These include the growing awareness of the law and individual rights among the public, an increased demand for lawyers driven by the government’s aim for a law-based society, economic growth, harmony and respect for human rights.

He says that these factors include the promotion of international trade and the development of the private sector. Notable examples include the recent establishment of the National Authority for Out-of-Court Dispute Resolution and intensified efforts to disseminate legal knowledge by the bar association through conferences, training sessions, building relations with relevant local and international institutions, and regular dialogues between BAKC leaders and both newly trained and practicing lawyers.

Siden says that the professionalism of lawyers is contingent on individual factors such as knowledge, experience, abilities and reputation building. Many lawyers have recently been appointed to significant roles, including deputy directors, directors and advisers to state institutions, further validating the improved professional processes and the acknowledgment of top lawyers’ capabilities to entrust important responsibilities to their peers.

He shares that the BAKC currently boasts 2,789 members, of which 2,365 are full-time lawyers (716 of them women). Additionally, there are 12 foreign members, six of them women, serving within the framework of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which closed its last case in December 2022.

Sa Vorn, a resident of Samlei commune’s Samlei Khang Cheung village in Svay Rieng province’s Kampong Ro district, recounts a previous civil case where he enlisted a lawyer’s assistance for his defence, provided free of charge. Despite losing the case, he gained insights into the legal process and community conflicts through the attorney’s clear explanations.

“The lawyer not only professionally defended my case but also shared legal insights with me. I encourage lawyers, equipped with legal knowledge, to pursue justice for their clients based on their expertise,” he says.

Survivor defence initiative

Siden notes that the BAKC actively engages in providing free legal services to disadvantaged individuals. The association’s policy involves appointing lawyers to defend survivors of violence, particularly women and girls, and promoting legal aid for children. Additionally, collaborative efforts with relevant institutions aim to expand and fortify participation in the justice sector.

This year, the association has assigned lawyers to handle 5,470 cases for the impoverished, assisting a total of 8,757 clients. They provided legal advice in 456 cases, offered legal representation in 242 cases involving 256 survivors, defended 60 cases for 87 children, and provided counselling in 310 cases at no cost.

Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group LICADHO, explains that typically, in both criminal and civil lawsuits, everyone involved engages a lawyer to protect their rights and to represent them. The exception arises in cases of crimes or involving juveniles in criminal proceedings, where the court may ask the bar association to appoint a lawyer for the accused party if they do not already have legal representation.

Furthermore, individuals involved in legal matters have the option to seek the services of a lawyer independently, with the caveat that lawyers must adhere to their statutes, professionalism and ethics.

“The BAKC has bolstered its commitment to adhering to statutes and professional ethics, alongside continuous training. This has elevated the confidence and professionalism of lawyers in serving their clients. Active participation in promoting the legal and judicial system is crucial,” he says.

Sam Ath adds that, considering the BAKC’s 2,365 lawyers, they fall short of meeting the country’s widespread legal needs.

He notes that lawyers, pivotal in justice and law, contribute by defending clients, offering legal advice and procedures, and disseminating the law to citizens. However, adherence to professional ethics and compliance with the lawyer statute are imperative.