What is happening in the Belarusian legal profession using the example of one legal consultation
Published May 16, 2023
On April 26, news appeared on the telegram channel of the Belarusian Republican Bar Association that the chairman of the BRBA, Alexei Shvakov, visited a legal consultation in the Stolbtsy district. Judging by the news, A. Shvakov "appraised the organization of work to ensure the availability of legal assistance in the Stolbtsy district" and "discussed with attorneys the issues and problems that concern them today."

This news interested us, since our project only a month and a half ago wrote about legal consultations in which there is no attorney at all, and the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district was one of them. We decided to look into this news in detail and check the facts. It seemed important to us not to evaluate the facts in any way in this article, but to give readers the opportunity to draw their own conclusions.

What happened in Stolbtsy
Let us remind you that the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district was noted in our material as the largest legal consultation in which there are no attorneys. If you look at very recent history, then as of April 6, 2022, there were 4 attorneys listed in the legal consultation office. At that time, one of the attorneys (A. Belokhvost) was already under disciplinary proceedings for signing a petition condemning military actions in Ukraine. As of October 20, 2022, there were three attorneys in the legal consultation office of the Stolbtsy district: S. Kosmach, G. Mamonko, V. Yagodinsky. And already on December 2, the Qualification Commission for Advocacy in the Republic of Belarus (remember that the existence and powers of this commission contradict the generally accepted principles of the legal profession) decides that S. Kosmach, G. Mamonko, V. Yagodinsky cannot practice law due to insufficient qualifications. And on December 28, 2022, this decision is finally confirmed by the termination of the licenses of these attorneys. This is how, with one decision, one day, an specific legal consultation has been actually liquidated. Accordingly, since December 28, there was not a single attorney in the legal consultation office of the Stolbtsy district (it started with 4). We focus on the fact that there were once 4 attorneys, since the rest of the consultations that are now left without attorneys are classified as understaffed consultations. Stolbtsy legal consultation is an exception among consultations without attorneys.
*the screenshots are from the Ministry of Justice website that say that "S. Kosmach, G. Mamonko, V. Yagodinsky cannot practice law due to insufficient qualifications"
Our project does not have trusted and accurate information about what exactly happened in Stolbtsy, why it suddenly became clear that for several years the attorneys working there all turned out to be unprofessional from the point of view of the Ministry of Justice, whether the interests of the residents of the Stolbtsy district were taken into account when considering the results of certification of attorneys, whether there were any personal conflicts or there were any other reasons for massive simultaneous lack of professionalism. We leave it to the readers to guess for themselves what caused it. Note that this happened during M. Tereshkov's short tenure as chairman of the Minsk Regional Bar Association (he announced that he was no longer chairman on December 23, 2022). At the same time, we are not aware of other cases where, just like that, in one day, a consultation was deprived of all three attorneys like that.
What now
Our project decided to go a little further than the official report on the visit of the chairman of the BRBA, and checked what kind of information is currently available regarding the personal composition of the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district.

Step 1. BRBA website.

The official website of the Belarusian Republican Bar Association contains (or at least should contain) all information about existing legal consultations in the Republic of Belarus and the attorneys working in them. A couple of mouse clicks - and we discover that on the page dedicated to the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district, not a single attorney is listed.
*the screenshot depicts absence of a list of attorneys for Stolbtsy district legal consultation
Step 2. Minsk Regional Bar Association website.

You can find out about legal consultations of the Minsk Regional Bar Association (hereinafter referred to as MRBA) on the official website of MRBA. On the page dedicated to the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district, we see that in this consultation there are three attorneys. Screenshots are provided. It should be noted that the screenshots were taken on May 12, that is, more than two weeks after the official visit and assessment by the Chairman of the BRBA of the availability of legal assistance.
*the screenshot from the MRBA website says that the Stolbtsy district legal consultation consists of Gordeychik S.M., Nikitina Y.S., Maximova K.V.
Step 3. And a little more from the MRBA website

The MRBA website contains, among other things, information about the composition of legal consultations in the Minsk region. And from this list you can see that the attorneys who are mentioned as attorneys of the legal consultations of the Stolbtsy district are in fact attorneys of completely different consultations: Minsk regional consultation No. 5, legal consultation of the Smolevichi district, Minsk regional specialized law consultation for providing legal assistance to business entities No. 3, respectively.
Step 4. And again the BRBA website

To find out whether there were any errors or shortcomings on the MRBA website, as well as who is actually "practicing" in Stolbtsy, we again turned to the BRBA website and studied information about each of the attorneys. It turned out that all three are not members of the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district. Information about legal consultations, to which these attorneys belong, completely repeats the information on the website of the Minsk Regional Bar Association.
Step 5. Website of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus

On the website of the Ministry of Justice, in the section devoted to the management of the legal profession, there is a list of all legal consultations with an indication of the attorneys related to them. As you can probably guess, the information in this list also fully corresponds to the information from the MRBA and BRBA websites - there are no attorneys in the legal consultations of the Stolbtsy district, and the above-mentioned attorneys are assigned to other consultations.
And a couple of words
We would like to draw your attention to something else. The attorneys currently giving consultations at the legal consultation office in the Stolbtsy district each have a little more than 3 months of legal experience. We decided to study how things were with the experience of previous attorneys. Their data had already been deleted from the BRBA website, but in the web archive it was possible to find information that as of May 9, 2021, attorney S. Kosmach had 9 years of experience in the legal profession. For the other two, information about the length of service has not been preserved, but the archives contain information about the dates of license issuance. The license of G. Mamonko was issued (apparently, we are talking about the first issuance, after that there were several stages of relicensing) 03/09/1999, the license to V. Yagodinsky was issued on 04/22/2021. That is, at the time of the recertification campaign, the Stolbtsy legal consultation was a completely effective consultation - two experienced attorneys, one attorney with 1.5 years of legal experience. However, the profession of an attorney has its own specifics. Having experienced colleagues means there is always someone to consult with, someone to complain to and listen to instructions on how not to "bend under" an investigator with extensive work experience, how to properly build communication with the client. Such experience, as practice shows, is invaluable.

We warn against drawing hasty conclusions about the alleged lack of professionalism or other shortcomings of attorneys with little experience and, conversely, about the exceptional experience of those who have been in the legal profession for a long time. And in the first case, we sometimes can see high professionalism, and in the second, shortcomings and unwillingness to develop may be noticed, and vice versa. It's just that some aspects of attorneying are better learned in practice from those who have some experience. In any case, when the consultation consists only of novice attorneys, this is not the best option for clients, although this does not negate the fact that in specific cases and specific requests specific clients can receive very high-quality and professional legal assistance.
Instead of conclusions
We do not know how A. Shvakov "assessed the organization of work to ensure the availability of legal assistance in the Stolbtsy district," but we were once again convinced that the legal consultation office in the Stolbtsy district did not have "its own" attorneys. We wrote earlier why the absence of attorneys in legal consultations violates the rights of citizens to legal assistance. "Conducting consultations" by people with minimal experience as attorneys raises serious doubts about the ability to provide high-quality legal assistance in the area.

At the very beginning, we promised to avoid assessments, so we do not say whether the issue of availability of legal assistance has been resolved in the Stolbtsy district, what exactly was assessed, why only novice attorneys ended up in the legal consultation of the Stolbtsy district, why, in fact, these attorneys were assigned for other consultations. We don't even know who the news on ensuring the availability of legal assistance has been directed at. The purpose of this article is to present the facts so that the reader can draw their own conclusions. And it seems there are more than enough facts.

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