Law experts interviewed by the Kyiv Post unanimously agreed that their firms are constantly on the hunt for better-skilled professionals.
With more than 250 Ukrainian universities providing legal education, it turns out to be difficult for their graduates to meet the market demands, as excellent English-language skills and overall critical thinking abilities are needed, along with outstanding professional expertise.
Some Ukrainian graduates believe that a prestigious university diploma is the key to success, while Leonid Antonenko, counsel at Sayenko Kharenko law firm, said that “the diploma doesn’t always indicate proper job candidate.”
Ukrainian students admit that local universities often fail to adjust their curriculums to market demands. Qleksandra Brovko, who will get her master’s degree in law at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University this year, called the local system of education “too general and theoretical.”
Lack of practical skills encourages Ukrainian law students to apply to Western universities. During the last five years, the number of Ukrainian students in European universities increased by 38 percent, with around 32,000 students enrolled.
In 2013, Brovko entered Swiss World Trade Institute for one-year master’s program, where she studied international trade law. Brovko recalls she met people from more than 20 countries during her year at Swiss university, which gave her a good experience. She also says her studies in Switzerland were “very intense with more than 35 exams during the year.”
Hennadiy Voytsitskyi, who heads Tax Practice Group at Kyiv’s office of Baker & McKenzie law firm, admitted that the biggest problem is that local universities lack individual-oriented methods of studying: “University education in Ukraine drags way behind the reality,” Voytsitskyi said. “The education for lawyers should have the individual factor. And in fact Ukrainian universities don’t raise people who think critically.”
After getting his Ukrainian diploma, Voytsitskyi received a master of law degree from Harvard Law School in 2004. “US professors didn’t care whether you take notes during the lecture and how much information you memorized. Much more important is to express one’s own opinion and have enough strong arguments to provide,” he recalled. Besides, students at American universities can create individual study plans and choose the courses to attend.
He is certain that Ukrainian law schools should incorporate the case method instead of lecture-based courses. Besides, local students lack communication with lawyers on the ground.
Oksana Ilchenko, a partner for Egorov, Puginsky, Afanasiev and Partners, agreed that involving reputable practitioners into university curriculum “will reinforce the bridge between theory and practice, and also between the law schools and the market.”
However, Ilchenko says theoretical background comes of a big help for Ukrainian law students. “Heavy focus on the theoretical part (especially, studying the codes) that is usually criticized as the biggest disadvantage of Ukrainian education system, is actually inevitable to some extent as it is ancillary to our legal system,” Ilchenko explained. On the flipside, she admitted, the Ukrainian system makes professors spend too much time lecturing instead of guiding and mentoring.
Ilchenko, who received degrees from Lviv National Ivan Franko University and Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko National University and completed a post-graduate course at TMC Asser Institute in Netherlands, recommended law graduates from Ukrainian universities not to hurry with entering Western schools. “Try to get at least 2-3 years of practice to firm up or change your choice of specialization and get a real flavor of the matters you will be dealing with,” she said.
Artem Shaipov, another Kyiv Taras Shevchenko University graduate, enrolled at Cambridge University after working for Center for Political and Legal Reforms in Kyiv for a couple of years, which gave him an opportunity to find specific legal fields he’s interested in.
Shaipov received law degree from Cambridge University in 2012. He cites the university’s freedom and opportunity to select the number of disciplines to study as key advantages of the UK education. Moreover, he admits, many Ukrainian professors lack friendly attitudes towards students, while British professors are more accessible.
“However, I need to stress that Ukrainian education and legal education in general is not so bad, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many Ukrainian students who successfully study on different programs abroad,” Shaipov added.
Antonenko of Sayenko Kharenko law firm received his master’s degree from the University of Reading in 2009 after studying at Odessa Law Academy. He said it’s impossible to change all Ukrainian professors at once, but there are some important things to incorporate into local universities from the West.
He emphasized the difference in written assignments at Ukrainian and British universities.
“Every single paper (in University of Reading) was checked for plagiarism via Internet,” Antonenko explains. “And I think more written work that requires critical thinking and the cutting of useless library-research papers — the main home assignment for Ukrainian students — can improve educational process in Ukraine.”
Antonenko stressed that legal education provided by Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University is of a higher quality since graduates of these schools are more successful in receiving jobs at Sayenko Kharenko. “They usually have a good English-language level, which is important for us, and argumentation skills,” he explained.
by Olena Goncharova