Schrödinger Advice Bureaus: Revisiting the Bar Six Months Later
Published on 12 September 2023
Half a year ago, in March 2023, our project released an article titled 'Whales on which the district bar is based and Schrödinger's advice bureaus: what is happening in the legal profession.' The article highlighted the unusual phenomenon of legal advice offices operating without attorneys or with just one attorney on board.

Following the article's publication, the chairman of the Belarusian Republican Bar Association (BRBA), A. Shvakou, visited one of the 'problematic' legal consultations in the Stolbtsy district. Previously reported as 'attorneyless,' this office surprisingly had three lawyers present at the time of his visit.

These anomalies, including the existence of lawyerless consultations, can be attributed to the ongoing repression of the legal community in Belarus. Since 2020, the legal profession has faced the repressions that the history of sovereign Belarus has never known before, resulting in a noticeable reduction in the number of practicing attorneys, both nationally and regionally.

This article examines the current state of the Belarusian Bar, six months after the initial discovery of such 'ghost advice offices' and the bold claims by the Ministry of Justice regarding the provision of necessary legal assistance to citizens.

Please note that the data on the number of advocates available in official sources have shortcomings. In the general list of lawyers, their number is 1616 (among them, those with suspended licence - 54). However, the data on the distribution of specialists by legal consultancy offices gives a figure of 1589 (among them, those with a suspended licence - 52). Further in the material we focus on the highest figure (1616) in favour of the hope of providing citizens with legal aid.
It's important to note that official data on the number of attorneys have some discrepancies. The general list reports a total of 1,616 attorneys, including 54 with suspended licenses. However, data from legal advice offices indicate only 1,589 attorneys, with 52 of them having suspended licenses. In this article, we will use the higher figure of 1,616 to optimistically reflect the availability of legal aid for citizens.
The Law of Conservation of Energy: there's more, there's less
Let's begin with a comparative analysis of the situation in the legal profession, observing changes over a span of six months. The accompanying image provides a clear visualization of where attorneys have been newly appointed and where the offices have lost their sole listed specialist.
Advice Bureaus where there is only 1 attorney
Advice Bureaus where there are no attorney
Mogilev and Gomel Regions: The Antileaders'
A notable dynamic shift, unfortunately for the worse, is immediately evident in the Mogilev and Gomel regions.

Previously, the Mogilev region was already among the 'antileaders'. However, in addition to 11 legal advice offices (Glusk, Goretsky, Dribyn, Kirov, Klimovichi, Klichev, Krasnopolsk, Mstislavl, Khotim, Chausk, Cherikov districts) that had only one attorney each six months ago, three more districts — Kruglyansky, Krichev, and Belynichy — have now joined this list. This increase brings the total number of legal advice offices with only one attorney in the Mogilev region to 14. It is important to note that the change in status for Bialynichy and Kruglanski districts is due to their transition from 'lawyerless' consultations, as these districts had no legal specialists at all six months prior. Currently, only the Slavgorod rayon office is critically understaffed. Consequently, 15 out of 21 districts in the Mogilev region now present concerns regarding the adequacy of legal aid provision.

In the Gomel region, the Chechersk district, previously staffed by only one specialist, has welcomed a second attorney. However, this remains the sole piece of positive news from the region. The number of legal offices with just one attorney has increased. Initially restricted to Kormiansk, Lelchitski, and Loievski districts, it now includes consultations in Bragin, Buda-Koshelevski, Yelsk, and Oktyabrski districts. This increase brings the total in the region from four to seven. Meanwhile, the Narovlya district office continues to operate without any attorneys.

There are now 11 legal advice offices in Vitebsk staffed by only one attorney — in districts such as Beshenkovichi, Gluboki, Gorodoki, Dokshitsky, Lioznensky, Sennensky, Ushachy, and Shumilinsky. Recently, Lepelsky, Rossonsky, and Toloinsky districts have also joined this list. While Rossonsky district gained an attorney, Sharkovski district, previously served by one attorney, has now become 'empty.' Dubrovensk District also remains without a single legal specialist. With 21 districts in total, the Vitebsk region's situation is dire, as entire geographical areas have extremely limited access to legal aid. In total, residents in 13 out of 21 districts in the Vitebsk region face highly questionable access to legal services.

In the Brest region, the number of offices with at least one attorney has increased to two (from one six months ago): Lyakhovichi and Gantsevichi districts. Previously, we cited the Brest region as 'the most problem-free,' thanks to larger offices in Brest, Pinsk, and Baranavichy. The emergence of new legal advice offices with only one attorney is noted, but the region still remains among those with at least one specialist per office, a status it shares with the Grodno region.

Stability in Minsk and Hrodna

In Hrodna region, all the offices continue to be staffed with at least one specialist. The Korelichi district maintains its single lawyer, and the Zelva district has recently followed suit. The Svisloch district office, which previously had only one attorney, has now been augmented with a new lawyer, licensed in June of this year.

In Minsk, the situation remains stable with all legal advice offices staffed by more than one specialist; no offices are empty.

However, several well-known names have disappeared from the list of attorneys. E. Zhdanovich and M. Ageyev (who was detained, though attorneys typically remain on the list until a verdict is issued) are no longer listed. Maria Dobrotvorskaya, once a member of the disciplinary commission of the Minsk City Bar Association, is also no longer part of the Minsk City Bar Association.

As of March 2023, there were six lawyerless offices in the Minsk region. Three of these (Minsk Regional Legal Advice Office No. 6, Minsk Regional Specialised Legal Advice Office "Business, Law, Taxes", and the Fanipol office) no longer exist. Meanwhile, the legal consultations in the Luban and Uzden districts remain empty. The Stolbtsy district office, which lost its attorneys due to repressive actions from the Bar's self-government bodies, was previously marked as 'empty.' However, a subsequent inspection revealed the presence of three attorneys as listed on the Association's website. Currently, there are two attorneys with licenses issued in December 2022 and July 2023.

Minsk City Bar Association: Negative Dynamics Despite No Apparent Issues

The total number of attorneys in Minsk has decreased to 611, down from 637 six months ago. While the overall number of attorneys in Belarus also declined during this period (from 1690 to 1616), the proportion of attorneys in Minsk relative to the country remains roughly the same, at about 38% of Belarus's total legal workforce.

According to Belstat's official data as of January 1, 2023, Minsk's population stood at 1,995,471. This leads to a ratio of one attorney per 3,265 inhabitants in Minsk (compared to one per 3,130 six months ago), highlighting a negative trend. This decline is noteworthy, particularly considering the apparent adequacy of staffing at legal advice offices in Minsk. It also raises concerns about the effectiveness and quality of legal assistance given such a high client-to-attorney ratio.

Distribution of the outflow of attorneys by Bar Associations

During the past six months, the distribution of attorneys who have left their respective bar is as follows:

Minsk City Bar Association - 36 attorneys
Minsk Regional Bar Association - 21 attorneys
Gomel Regional Bar Association - 10 attorneys
Vitebsk Regional Bar Association - 9 attorneys
Grodno Regional Bar Association - 8 attorneys
Mogilev Regional Bar Association - 7 attorneys
Brest Regional Collegium of Advocates - 5 attorneys

A total of 96 attorneys have left the Bar for various reasons. This marks a shift from the times when there was a systematically higher outflow of attorneys from the Minsk City Bar Association and the Minsk Regional Bar Association compared to other bars. Currently, the proportion of attorneys leaving the first two associations aligns with their representation in the total attorney population (38% and 21% respectively). Notably, the Brest Regional Bar Association, which constitutes 11% of attorneys, has only seen 5% of its specialists leave. This is significant, considering that the Brest region previously had the best record for staffing consultations with attorneys.

A slightly higher proportion of departures was observed among attorneys who practiced individually until 2022, when repressive amendments to the Bar legislation were enacted. These individual practitioners, who now make up 12% of the total attorney population, accounted for 13% of the departures. In contrast, only 6% of specialists who previously worked in law offices left, despite them constituting 15% of the total number of attorneys. It is worth remembering that both the leadership of the Ministry of Justice and the country's de facto leadership often criticized individual attorneys and those from advocates' bureaus as the 'rotten apples' tarnishing the Bar's overall image. However, the data indicates that the exodus from the Bar is occurring at similar rates among both the criticized groups and 'ordinary' attorneys.

The situation in the legal field is further complicated by the disbarment of attorneys following disciplinary sanctions for committing a 'misdemeanor discrediting the title of lawyer.' The Vitebsk Regional Bar Association notably saw three such cases in the past six months, a significant number given its relatively low number of attorneys. Notable cases include the disbarment of I. Stepanov (for liking a page of an online shop, which was included in the national list of extremist materials since August 2022, under Article 19.11 Part 2 of the Code of Administrative Offences) and A. Ulasevich and S. Yakushev (who, according to unconfirmed reports, were disciplined for charitable donations to solidarity funds).


As of January 1, 2023, the Republic's estimated population was 9,200,617, with 1,616 attorneys serving the entire country. This equates to one attorney per 5,693 people. For context, in February 2023, the ratio was slightly better at one attorney per 5,500 people.

With such a ratio, it's crucial to note that the Minsk City Bar and Minsk Regional Bar together have 945 specialists, comprising 58% of the country's total legal workforce. Outside of Minsk and the Minsk region, the ratio of legal aid provision drops to one attorney per 10,731 people.

In the past six months, 35 candidates passed the exam and were admitted to the Bar, a positive development compared to the six candidates admitted in the previous period. Nonetheless, the number of practicing attorneys in Belarus is on the decline. This decrease is attributed to the increasingly challenging working conditions over the last three years and the frequent recertifications.

Regrettably, there are no signs of a reversal in this trend, indicating that the exodus from the Bar is likely to persist.

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