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Cooperation of lawyers and paralegals — affordable legal aid and long-awaited solutions in communities

Publication date: June 27, 2024

Author: Yuliia Bilyk, communications manager of the Legal Development Network

In the spring of 2023, the Legal Development Network (LDN, the Network), together with the Ukrainian Paralegal Association, tested for the first time the mechanism of providing free legal aid based on the “client-paralegal-lawyer” model. Since then, 70 citizens and initiative groups (clients) have received services, and lawyers and paralegals have worked out the process of effective interaction based on their own experience. In this article, we describe the changes that have taken place with the mechanism since its launch, its benefits for people, and the points of growth and development.


“The other day, a woman came to me with the question of registration of inheritance to a land plot. The woman has a disability, suffers from diabetes, and because she did not know about the possibility of receiving legal aid from the LDN, she came for a consultation 35 kilometers away, from a remote mountain village,” says Valentyna Tkach, a lawyer with the NGO “Committee of Voters” (Vyzhnytsia, Chernivtsi Oblast). “In communities that are in the field of vision of paralegals, legal advice can be obtained without leaving home. It doesn’t matter how far from the center you live or what your financial capabilities are.”

Valentyna Tkach, lawyer. Photo from personal archive

Accessibility is a key advantage of the “client-paralegal-lawyer” model. Lawyers, paralegals, and people seeking help all talk about it. In practice, the process looks like this:

  • a person or a group of people have a question that needs clarification and turn to a paralegal — a person who most often lives in the same community, understands the context, has been trained and is involved in the work of the legal aid mechanism;
  • having studied the issue, the paralegal prepares a request and passes it on to a lawyer, usually the one with whom he/she is assigned to work;
  • a lawyer studies the issue and provides professional advice, and draws up a step-by-step action plan to achieve a solution.
Daria Kovalchuk, Legal Services Manager at the LDN. Photo from personal archive

“The uniqueness of our mechanism lies in the fact that it makes it possible to reach residents of remote communities where other organizations cannot reach, where there are no free legal aid points, where there is no proper transport connection and where there is no access to justice in principle,” notes Daria Kovalchuk, manager of legal services at the LDN.

At the same time, adds Maryna Tsarapayeva, coordinator of the work of public advisers, none of the parties involved is making extra efforts.

Maryna Tsarapayeva, coordinator of the mechanism from the Association of Community Advisers, community advisor (Semenivska TG, Zhytomyr Oblast). Photo from the personal archive

“Community advisers, just like the organizations of the Legal Development Network, are represented in all regions of Ukraine — somewhere more, somewhere less, but in all. That is, everyone can get paralegal assistance in the form of advice on common issues, such as how to connect a certain service in Diia, right on the spot, and for more complex issues we turn to lawyers,” says Maryna Tsarapaeva.

There are lawyers who visit communities, for example, Mykhailo Bardyn from the Podil Human Rights Centre (Vinnytsia), who practices direct communication with residents of Storozhynets (Chernivtsi region). However, in most cases, the interaction is remote — via telephone and/or messengers. This means that, for example, a lawyer from Vinnytsia can advise a citizen from Uzhhorod, a paralegal from Zaporizhzhia can seek advice from a lawyer from Zhytomyr, etc.


Another advantage of the mechanism is support: a person is not left alone with his or her issue until it is resolved.

“We do not limit the client’s communication with the lawyer. As one example, a client of Lyudmyla Vlasenko, a lawyer at Legal Unity (Bila Tserkva), received not only professional advice but also assistance in preparing a statement of claim to the court,” says Daria Kovalchuk.

“I can see how the understanding of paralegals about their role is changing,” says Maryna Tsarapayeva. “At the beginning, it was perceived as a simple referral: I see a problem and pass it on to a lawyer. Now paralegals have realized the meaning of their work — support. We encourage paralegals to focus their efforts on quality, not quantity: it is better to take on two or three cases, but in cooperation with lawyers, do everything possible to bring them to a logical conclusion.”

Long-awaited solutions

For several years, residents of the village of Sad in Sumy Oblast have been appealing to the regional military administration with the problem of reducing the number of passenger transport runs on the route from Sumy to the village. The issue was resolved only when the public adviser Snizhana Kaminska turned to the lawyers of the LDN.

A lawyer from Khmelnytskyi, Andrii Palinchak (Podilska Legal League NGO, Khmelnytskyi), advised to check the number of trips stated in the contract under which the carrier provides services. As a result, the residents found out that the contract had expired long ago, but the Sumy Regional State Administration had unlawfully extended it, allegedly because of martial law. The case has become a resonant issue in the community, and now a tender procedure is being prepared to select a carrier with better service conditions for the community.

“Sometimes a small tip from a lawyer is enough to move an issue that has been pending for years and seemed hopeless,” says Natalia Pankova, a community adviser (Hadiach ATC, Poltava Oblast), sharing examples from her practice. “A person who had not had a Ukrainian passport for 40 years applied. In cooperation with lawyer Lyudmyla Vlasenko, we first helped to restore the birth certificate, and then applied to the State Migration Service. We are now waiting for a response.”

Community adviser Natalia Pankova (Hadiach ATC, Poltava Oblast). Photo from the personal archive

Trust and protection

The Association of Community Advisers in Ukraine has 200 advisers. Within the framework of the legal aid mechanism, 13 of them constantly interact with the lawyers of the LDN. “Community advisers are people from among local activists who combine their paralegal work with the main work and promote the right values in society,” explains Maryna Tsarapayeva.

“People trust paralegals, listen to them and are ready to refer them to lawyers of the Legal Development Network because they are sure that this person knows what he or she is doing and will not advise against it. In addition, paralegals are motivators for applying for legal aid. Communication and education, which is provided by paralegals due to their developed soft skills, is also important,” adds Daria Kovalchuk.

For example, in Hadiach (Poltava Oblast), the mechanism helped resolve a conflict between the management of a social hostel and the internally displaced people living there. Since 2019, IDP residents have been complaining to no avail about pressure, threats of eviction, and bans on holding events for children in the dormitory. Paralegal Natalia Pankova contacted Andriy Korbetskyi, a lawyer at the Centre for Economic and Legal Development, who helped her prepare an appeal to the Ombudsman, the Hadiach City Council, the utility company that owns the dormitory, and the police. The case was publicized, and the dormitory manager was reprimanded and does not bother the residents.

Daria Kovalchuk, Legal Services Manager at the LDN, also draws attention to the element of personal data protection that was included in the mechanism from the very beginning. “We understand all the risks in case the information is disclosed or falls into the hands of opponents. Lawyers and paralegals take care of the confidentiality of client communications, in particular when exchanging messages and sending documents. We have not had any cases of information leakage during the entire period of our work. Accordingly, people see that we deserve their trust,” emphasizes Daria Kovalchuk.

Growth points

Based on the experience gained, the mechanism’s participants have identified growth points to provide accessible, free and, most importantly, high-quality legal aid to more people in need.

  • Systematic communication

As communication mostly takes place in online chats, lawyers and paralegals have noticed over time that they lack communication with their colleagues. So, recently, the coordinators of the mechanism have been organizing periodic video meetings for all involved professionals. Such networking facilitates the exchange of positive and negative experiences, reinforces motivation and inspires further work. In the future, the goal is to create the possibility of live meetings.

  • Getting closer to the client

Previously, all communication within the mechanism took place through the mediation of a public advisor. Under such conditions, even minor clarifications took more time. Now the mechanism focuses on direct communication between the client and the lawyer. The task of the paralegal is to create the conditions for this communication to take place. Clients welcome such innovations.

  • Feedback

It happens that people are dissatisfied with a lawyer’s answer if it is not in their favor, or they find out that many steps need to be taken to achieve the desired result and are not ready to invest their time in this. Detailed comments from legal aid beneficiaries were obtained in only 35 cases out of 70, 31 of which were positive. Collecting feedback on each case without exception is a point of growth, as it allows us to identify possible gaps and address them.

  • Team building

In the beginning, paralegals contacted lawyers on a first-come, first-served basis. However, over time, separate paralegal-lawyer pairs have been formed and interact on an ad hoc basis. Establishing a warm rapport and working in small teams, where all participants are in the same context, is the way forward.

  • Scaling up

As a result of the war, people’s well-being is declining, people are losing their health, their relatives, their property. There are more and more people in need of legal aid, which not everyone can afford by turning to private specialists. At the same time, the amount of state free legal aid is being reduced. Given this, legal aid from the member organizations of the Legal Development Network has a great potential for development and scaling: by expanding the movement of community advisers (for example, only one community advisor currently works in Zaporizhzhya), engaging new lawyers, and, as a great idea, creating mobile groups of lawyers, paralegals, psychologists, and social workers for scheduled visits and comprehensive satisfaction of the needs of residents of remote communities.

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