Cambodia Legal Internship Not Best Career Move
Sherman Oaks, California
A young, idealistic and peppy law student, looking for hands-on experience (and a resume booster), signs up for a summer in Cambodia working on land reform.
Asia hands know exactly where this story is going.
Our cuddly 2L vents to admissions guru Anna Ivey:
One problem is my colleagues and supervisors don't seem to do much. I nicknamed one attorney "man that stares at his cell phone" in honor of his 8 hour a day activity. The lack of work is partly due to the fact that government doesn't respond to motions, follow its own laws, or respect the court system. It's common to wait months for rulings, only to find out the court is "too busy" and will not issue any ruling at all, or the case file has been lost. As a result, the attorneys often wait around and do nothing.Ms. Ivey gives some excellent and tactful advice.
I think my boss is depressed about the corruption. The program's two showcase lawsuits have been going on for 7 and 4 years respectively. In the first case, the local prosecutor has [allegedly] refused to correctly implement the presiding judge's verdict, and in the second case everyone involved in facilitating the [allegedly] fraudulent sale of indigenous land has admitted to taking bribes in a transaction that was, on its face, against the law (the land was sold to the sister of the Minister of Finance)....
I know that one of the themes of your blog is that Gen Y's self-involvement leads to unreasonable expectations and more than an acceptable level of complaining. So I decided to create a writing project for myself where I would investigate how to go about filing a complaint in US courts against a Cambodian-American that [allegedly] dispossessed 23 families using armed men and bulldozers. I thought several allied NGOs were representing the families. I went to the province and met with people from the 3 other NGOs, but no one spoke sufficient English to discuss the case. I had to get the moto taxi driver to translate, which of course didn't work since the taxi driver's English was limited to "right, left" and not "motion, complaint." Then I went and interviewed an American ex-pat restaurant owner who witnessed the seizure. He was smoking pot during the interview. Anyway, long story short the NGOs weren't representing the families anymore because they never had actual title to the land and the Cambodian-American is politically connected and [allegedly] paid an acceptable bribe to the local families. The memo, while a nice academic exercise, would be functionally useless. Instead I'm writing another grant proposal and shadowing my boss to his infrequent meetings with court officials (going to an hour meeting in the provinces can take 3 days after factoring in driving).
But that's it. I've got an interesting story or two about the outrageous facts in the cases, but I haven't done much substantive legal work. In on campus interviews, I can show an attorney a picture of a client meeting with a monkey in the background but not a legal memo.
What the hell were you thinking?
Cambodia is listed by the United Nations as a Least Developed Country, which is diplo-speak for Most Screwed Up Places On Earth. A country gets off the list by posting a gross national income per capita of $900, and Cambodia can't swing that.
What were you expecting? France with banyan trees? Thailand with fewer Seven-Elevens?
Did you seriously think Cambodia would have a functioning court system? That Cambo judges would rule against government officials because a bunch of barangs started waving pieces of paper?
Did you do any research into the reality of contemporary Cambodian society?
My biggest complaint about baby lawyers is that they know volumes of nuanced legal theory but don't understand the basics of how law works in reality. This proves my point in spades.
Pictured: The courthouse constructed specifically for the Cambodian genocide trials which, despite U.N. oversight, are a farce.