Alexandru Țurcan: There is a deep gap between the demand for legal assistance and the possibility of the population to buy legal services
While in developed countries citizens benefit from pro bono consultations, in Moldova these remain underdeveloped. At the same time, the state does not have enough financial resources to remunerate advocates who provide state-guaranteed legal aid. Monthly, a legal aid advocate earns on average MDL 3,800. That is why, many times, citizens have no one to refer to for free consultations.
Namely for these reasons, the online platform for providing free legal answers - yAvo.md has been launched. At the moment, over 110 lawyers have registered in the platform, who have provided about 1,200 answers to citizens' legal questions. The promotion of the yAvo.md platform also benefited from a support from the Soros Foundation-Moldova.
9 months after its launching, the founder of yAvo.md, advocate Alexandru Țurcan, summarizes the activity of the lawyers registered on the platform. What are the most frequent problems of the citizens, who are the most active lawyers/advocates, but also why pro bono activity is underdeveloped in Moldova, are questions the answer of which can be found in the interview below.
BizLaw: Why was it necessary to launch an online platform that offers pro bono legal responses to citizens - yAvo?
Alexandru Țurcan: Both in Moldova and in most countries of the world, including in the countries we know as developed countries, there is a deep gap between the demand for legal assistance and the power of purchasing legal services. Simply speaking, most citizens of any country (either Moldova or the USA) cannot afford to go to a lawyer every time there is a legal need, such as:
• My neighbor flooded me – do I immediately go to an advocate?
• The bank threatens me with the lawsuit for late contractual payments - do I immediately go to an advocate?
• I have been subjected to a disciplinary sanction at work - do I immediately go to an advocate?
• The police issued a ticket - do I immediately go to an advocate?
The global reality (not just our national one) is that the citizen either satisfies most of the legal needs alone or ignores them and leaves things to develop on their own. Our state does not provide such statistics, but the Americans have counted: a significant percentage, about 80% of the civil legal needs of the US population eligible for state-guaranteed legal aid are not being met. For example, in the American city of Boston, 33,000 low-income citizens have been denied state-guaranteed legal aid on vital issues such as forced eviction, domestic violence, etc. Only in the state of New York, nearly 2 million people per year are not represented by counsel in civil proceedings: 91% of petitioners and 92% of respondents do not have lawyers in child support matters in family court, and 99% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.
BizLaw: What does the statistical data from the Republic of Moldova show, regarding the state guaranteed legal aid?
Alexandru Țurcan: The statistical data for 2016 provided by the National Council for State Guaranteed Legal Aid (NCSGLA) shows:
• nearly 50,000 people benefited from qualified state guaranteed legal aid, of which:
- 45,000 - criminal cases;
- 5,000 – civil cases;
• about 9,300 people benefited from state-guaranteed primary legal aid.
About 500 advocates, 40 paralegals, 13 students of law faculties were involved in providing qualified and primary legal aid. The amount of the fees paid to advocates from the state budget for qualified legal aid in 2016 exceeded 23 million lei.
A simple mathematical calculation shows that: 23 million lei / 500 advocates / 12 months = about 3,800 lei / month - the average monthly fee earned by an advocate from the state-guaranteed legal aid cases. It is obvious that our state will not be able to considerably increase the expenses for minimum state guaranteed legal aid in the near future. The maximum share (about 90%) of this budget covered by the state is consumed by criminal cases, with civil cases benefiting from less financial support from the state. Under such circumstances, the community of advocates and lawyers has to act and feels a moral duty to contribute to the society. Thus, pro bono volunteer legal activities appear. In some countries, the minimum mandatory number of pro bono working hours of advocates is regulated by law. In the current economic conditions of our country, the introduction of pro bono obligation is premature but the development, promotion and streamlining the idea is mandatory.
BizLaw: What are the most common questions from citizens?
Alexandru Țurcan: Among the most popular topics on the yAvo.md platform are the issues related to labor law: wages, redundancies and leaves; family law: in particular, issues related to non-payment of the allowance for minors and the deprivation of rights of parents who refuse to participate in the maintenance of children; all aspects of road traffic and interaction with patrol inspectors; credits and debts; housing and condominium relations; small business subjects, etc.
BizLaw: Now, the portal yAvo.md is also available in Russian. How do you manage to keep the platform?
Alexandru Țurcan: During the last few months, the promotion of the platform was supported by the Department of Justice and Human Rights of the Soros Foundation-Moldova. Thanks to the Soros Foundation-Moldova’s support, hundreds of thousands of citizens have learned about yAvo.md. Today, people have the possibility to benefit from about 10 free legal answers per day. For clarity - neither the Soros Foundation-Moldova, nor any other person or organization remunerates lawyers for participation on yAvo.md. The lawyers who actively respond on yAvo are those who feel the need to give primary aid to the citizen for free with what they know best.
Bizlaw: What does yAvo.md intend for the future?
Alexandru Țurcan: yAvo.md aims at broadening the functionality of the platform, populate the database with free templates of contracts and other popular legal documents. In the near future, we will publish:
- templates of prenuptial agreements, in Romanian and Russian;
- template of individual employment contract;
- template of judicial claim for child support and alimony;
- template of contract for residential and non-residential lease;
- template of contact for earnest moneys in real estate purchases;
- template of sales and purchase contact;
- template of loan contact, etc.
In addition, we will develop cooperations with advocates and advocate-trainees to provide legal assistance to citizens with the support of the yAvo platform, on favorable financial terms, accessible to citizens and adequate for advocates.
BizLaw: At the moment, there are over 110 lawyers registered on yAvo.md. Only the 11 advocates who are members of the Ţurcan Cazac law firm have volunteers around 400 free legal answers. Apart from them, who are the most active lawyers?
Alexandru Țurcan: About two-thirds of answers on yAvo.md come from lawyers who are not members of our firm. Of them, if I made a top 10 of most active lawyers on yAvo.md in 2017, then they would be:
- In-house lawyer Silviu Potirniche - over 170 responses - at the moment, the most active lawyer on yAvo and leader according to the number of upvotes from citizens;
- Advocates: Călin Bobeica, Victor Panţâru;
- Advocate-trainees: Irina Şeghera, Dumitru Barbaroş, Marcel Racoviţ, Constantin Iosip;
- Law students: Vasile Gavriliţa, Mariana Ţurcanu, Maria Păslaruc.
BizLaw: What do the lawyers who actively participate on the yAvo.md portal gain?
Alexandru Țurcan: The immediate benefits for lawyers who contribute to the legal empowerment of citizens on the online environment on yAvo.md platform are as follows: lawyers' profiles on yAvo appear among the first search results in Google, sometimes even in front of Facebook profiles; active lawyers are regularly contacted by citizens on the phone or email, for concretizations, discussions and, hopefully, for further professional collaboration. When reaching and exceeding the threshold of the first 1,000 responses given to citizens, the top 10 lawyers who are not members of our law firm and who have provided or will provide at least 50 free answers on yAvo will receive a symbolic but useful gift for any lawyer with an online presence - a professional photo session with one of the best photographers in our country.
We have tried to find out from some of the most active lawyers on yavo.md what motivates them to work pro bono.
Silviu Potirniche, inhouse lawyer: In fact, the decision to provide pro bono legal answers was not a planned choice. Rather, the sense of social responsibility I have due to the profession of lawyer - has imminently determined my involvement in various voluntary activities related to the sharing of professional knowledge to those in need. When there is desire and involvement, time seems to organize by itself... In general, I try to replace the time I would have spent on social networks or short breaks during office hours or waiting times on the halls of courts - by providing answers to legal questions addressed online by citizens. And, I think it deserves this reorganization of time, because it is based on the win-win principle!
Online pro bono activity is both important and effective. The legal truth is always somewhere in the middle, and day by day people from our country face different legal issues. This is due to the relatively low level of elementary legal culture and the deficient mechanism in our country of citizen interaction with the public authorities. And when to these causes is added the precarious economic condition, pro bono online activity becomes a natural necessity, an activity of social responsibility. The effectiveness of pro bono legal advice consists of providing free solutions, through professional advice, to the questions asked by people. On-line pro bono activity does not imply verification by those who provide it, whether the applicant is indeed unable to afford access to legal services from a financial point of view. Therefore, this beautiful nuance of pro bono activity delimits it from state guaranteed legal aid. The effectiveness of online pro bono activity is also explained by the ease of accessing this kind of aid by those interested, as well as by the relatively short time of getting the answer to the question.
Irina Șeghera, advocate-trainee: It's a win win job, you help a person and deepen your knowledge. From the third year of law school I started to work pro bono in the legal clinic and I decided to continue online. As long as you know that you are useful and people expect answers and appreciate, you try to find time, sometimes even after midnight. Online you get an answer one click away. Of course, the complexity of the answer depends on how well you have exposed the facts and asked the question. The yAvo platform’s beneficiaries could better assess how useful the lawyers' answers were.
Pro bono legal aid - underdeveloped in Moldova
However, it seems that pro bono work is more popular in developed countries than in ours. "Pro bono legal work is better spread in developed countries. I think the yAvo platform is the best online pro bono legal platform because the questions are structured on the domains of specialization and you can find answers to questions in the archive. In the Republic of Moldova pro-bono culture could be developed by creating a larger number of legal clinics under law schools, where law students under the guidance of a advocate - professor would provide legal aid to low-income vulnerable people through legal platforms such as yAvo and by creating traditions among the legal professions", says Irina Şeghera.
And lawyer Silviu Potirniche believes that pro bono work has a future in our country. "The most eloquent example of how pro bono legal activity could be developed among Moldovan advocates and other lawyers is the yAvo.md platform. Namely, such platforms help lawyers who want to help for free people who are confused with legal issues or problems organize themselves. Pro bono should not be an umbrella for image promotion and client portfolio growth, therefore the development of this type of activity should be kept as self-managed as possible in order to preserve its noble and disinterested condition. Together with online legal platforms, pro bono could and should be developed through off-line activities, both by free representation of people in need in courts or in front of public authorities, as well as by ad hoc creation of initiative groups to support various pro bono social projects with impact on community progress. Ideally, pro bono should be promoted by professionals from many professions, not just by lawyers. The reward of pro bono activity is sweet and special, and I am sure we have a lot of people who want and will be involved in such activities", said Silviu Potirniche.