Study Tour to US Inspires Changes in Legal Services

Legal clinic student consults a client

“In the U.S. legal clinics, students deal with a wide range of issues from different social areas. Inspired by my American experience, I adapted this approach in my work.”

Yulia Khvatik is a leader in developing legal clinics in Belarus, which allow law students to develop practical skills under the mentorship of professional lawyers and professors while also providing pro bono legal services to socially disadvantaged citizens. Much of what she has accomplished results from a USAID study tour to the United States, where she observed the functioning of legal clinics.

Khvatik began as a student volunteer at the Belarus State Economic University legal clinic in 2005. Based on her professional merit and significant effort in promoting legal clinics in Belarus, she was selected for the USAID Community Connections program in 2006. By that time, Khvatik had graduated, worked as a law teacher and headed the legal clinic at the university. The clinic was supported by the USAID Belarus Legal Clinics Support Project, which helped to build a network of 15 university-based legal clinics throughout the country from 2007 to 2010.“

In the U.S. legal clinics, students deal with a wide range of issues from different social areas. Inspired by my American experience, I adapted this approach in my work,” says Khvatik.

After she returned to Belarus, she helped to spur changes that allowed students serving in legal clinics in the Belarus State Economic University to expand their services from consulting to counseling on a wide range of topics related to local community development. Today, the students advise on ways to protect and rescue homeless animals. They also provide services for people with disabilities and vulnerable groups, including single mothers and elderly people. This approach allows them to broaden their professional knowledge by exploring legal and social issues, and be more involved with the local community.

Khvatik also initiated a program that protects the rights of consumers of banking services in Belarus. With support from the U.S. Embassy Alumni Program, she created a financial literacy course to increase the level of financial knowledge among disadvantaged social groups so they could better protect themselves from risk.

In 2011, Khvatik became a member of the Committee on Financial Literacy of the Belarusian Banks Association. She also began serving as a consultant to the World Bank on consumer rights protection.

Khvatik is not done yet. She is now part of a group working to introduce the concept of a bank ombudsman to Belarus, a legal vehicle that helps to settle financial disputes before trial. Khvatik is an excellent example of how a program like Community Connections can inspire individuals to make tangible contributions to their communities.

Community Connections is an exchange program that contributes to economic and democratic reforms by exposing Belarusians to American citizens and their culture. The program provides Belarusian professionals in business, education, law, civil society and government the opportunity to gain practical experience from their American counterparts. Each year, about 60 participants from different sectors take part in visits tailored to their professional interests. Since 2006, more than 340 professionals have visited the United States under the three-week program that includes site visits to American governmental agencies, businesses and NGOs.