Not Your Typical Law Student – Lawyer from Tajikistan Helping Sacramento’s Poorest
Saidahmad Ikromov defies the stereotype of the sober law student buried under a mound of case law books. He has stepped outside the classroom to link academia to real world practice in order to serve the community surrounding the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento. Ikromov has contributed more than 50 hours of free legal assistance to lower income, unemployed, and underprivileged individuals at community Citizenship Fairs in the fall and spring and at the McGeorge School of Law’s Elder Law Clinic.
Ikromov, a Legal Education and Development (LEAD) Program participant from Tajikistan was a Legal Advisor for the Central Asia Corporate Governance Project of the International Finance Corporation in Tajikistan. Taking a break from his studies and community service, Ikromov recently reflected on his experiences.
What types of issues did you address while performing your community service?
During my community service, I realized that the day-to-day legal problems of underserved populations are very diverse, but the same kind of legal knowledge is required in order to provide quality services that would be given to anyone. During the Citizenship Fairs, I helped individuals who are legally in the U.S., but still do not have their citizenship. I realized that the U.S. is one of the biggest immigrant host countries in the world and has very complicated laws regulating those issues. I met some people who had been living in the U.S. for more than 15-20 years, but due to various reasons had not obtained their citizenship.
When I was volunteering at the Elder Law Clinic, people came with a wide variety of legal issues from insurance and communal issues to mortgage problems. Unfortunately, many of those issues are related to debt to third parties, and it is difficult to help them in these situations. Despite a relatively large amount of social support from the government, I think that elders in the U.S. are in a more disadvantaged position than others and are the object of many different kinds of abuse. Those individuals need someone who not only can listen to their problems, but also someone who can try to minimize the consequences of their circumstances.
What did you learn about the American legal system?
Before starting my community service in the U.S., I thought that it was hard for low income people to survive if they had legal problems and needed an attorney’s advice because of the high price of legal help in the U.S. But I soon realized that there are attorneys who wish to serve their communities on a voluntary basis. Despite it being free service, the quality of those services still remains at a very high level. Despite the strong public welfare system in the U.S., there are still people who struggle to get legal services. The U.S. legal system, in spite of being very advanced and progressive, still has some space for accommodating the needs of those who are less fortunate, because here the pro bono sector is very well organized.
How do the American and Tajikistan legal systems compare?
The Tajikistan legal system could highly benefit from a professional and very well organized pro bono system. I realized that here in the U.S., pro bono work is organized in a manner that involves law students, which is not widely spread in Tajikistan. Young lawyers, mentored by professional attorneys, could help vulnerable populations and at the same time, benefit from the experience.
What does this experience mean for your future work in Tajikistan?
My community work helped me a lot to get overall ideas on how to work with real clients and mitigate possible client relationship risks. If I start my own law firm, my community service experience will be helpful to deal with future clients. Also it gave me an idea of how to attract law students into the practice which will benefit both receiving parties and students, so it will motivate students to link their knowledge to real cases. As a professor, I can use my experience at the University to draw both practitioners and law students to the community work.
The Legal Education and Development Program is a program of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs of the U.S. Department of State and is implemented by IREX and the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI).