Youth Engagement

Civic Participation
Children and Youth
Judicial Reform

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leaders for justice

Leaders for Justice: Developing a community of young jurists


The Problem
Romania became a member of the European Union in 2007. However, the country had a poor record on the rule of law. The lack of a democratic tradition, the high level of corruption and limited access to a weak judiciary were among the many problems. A needs analysis showed there was a lack of well-trained jurists and that deficits in leadership and other soft skills were huge. There was also an absence of solidarity and sometimes even contact between members of the legal profession. The level of democratic education of citizens and trust in the judicial system and lawyers was even lower. And while there were numerous training courses for lawyers in procedural law and technical skills, none of the courses taught character traits such as integrity, fairness, empathy, motivation, commitment, compassion, and hope. Furthermore, these courses did not serve to build a community or bring about change.

The Approach
The Leaders for Justice (LfJ) project was launched in 2009 in Romania, creating a community of 300 young jurists from various areas of law, such as lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police officers, public notaries, clerks, university assistants, diplomats, legal councilors in public administration, NGOs, or private companies. Each year, a new generation of 20 candidates receives 24 days of intensive, values-based soft skills training. Upon graduation, they join the LfJ Community, an open space where everyone is encouraged to share ideas, concerns, challenges, and best practices from both personal and professional perspectives. Together, members promote rule of law principles, improve the justice system, and play an active role in society. The LfJ Community Annual Meeting serves as an idea factory where members develop ideas for new initiatives. In 2023 the program initiated a scaling-up process where members were trained to become trainers and multipliers, reaching out to their peers to reach a critical mass of legal professionals. In parallel, members of the community are supported and encouraged to start their own projects, and many of them are already active in the fields of legal education in high schools, offer pro-bono legal assistance to vulnerable groups or support the work of NGOs.

Following the dialogues, participants had the opportunity to apply for support for some small civic initiatives responding to the needs young people shared. In 2022 and 2023, UNDP has supported 20 follow-up initiatives, including: developing community profiles about the state of affairs in the field of youth policy and establishment of new youth councils; organization of a youth forum to exchange experiences; and organization of art events to acquaint young people with the work of Ukrainian artists and opportunities for youth development in the region.   

The Impact

  • In Romania it is unusual for judges and attorneys to meet outside of the courtroom; for most of them the Leaders for Justice project is the first time they work closely together. 

  • Participants have changed their attitude towards the legal system, realizing that in a constitutional state, the individual and not the authorities must be at the center of government action. 

  • Community member projects over the last 15 years have included: providing free legal aid to vulnerable groups, NGOs and investigative journalists; educating teenagers about their rights and the Constitution; equipping courts with juvenile jurisdiction with children's furniture; organizing training for law students, young prosecutors and other legal professionals; filming documentaries on the human face of the justice system; organizing storytelling shows to showcase fairness, justice and respect as fundamental values; and cooperation with Code4Romania on digitization of the judiciary and  improve access to justice. 

The Future
The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung has started to train alumni so that they can become multipliers and trainers themselves to expand the project and implement up to 10 leadership programs per year. They are also continuing and constantly developing the annual training program. Moreover, the LfJ Community is expanding nationwide the “People of Justice” storytelling format – a live experiential show with unconventional speakers, short films, theater plays, poetry, and live music recitals.