In Myanmar, paralegal model is a very new phenomenon and local communities and government are not still familiar with them currently. Normally, paralegals are known as non-lawyers doing legal work; however, the others are also called community-based paralegals, center-based paralegals, and mobile paralegals or social advocates. Some of them are full time employee associated with non-government organization, and civil society organizations, which trained them the community engagement, case data collection and management, and other soft skills; on the other hand, others are working as volunteers who only gained less legal trainings without direct supervision.
Generally, they have common characteristics which are: they give awareness to the communities, use the laws, and help others to identify and claim their legal rights.
Legal empowerment is the primary focus of the community-based paralegals because both individuals and communities can become legally empowered. We use “Paralegal Model” in legal empowering to local community in our project and activities especially in Citizenship Rights. Paralegals are different from conventional paralegals —their primary role is not to assist lawyers, but rather to work directly with the communities they serve.
They are from and stay within the community, and they help clients to know law, use law and shape law. Paralegals work to ensure that community understands and have the ability to apply knowledge of the law. They themselves follow the law and try to push local officials to do the same.
Community-based paralegals turn the wheel of legal empowerment conducting the following 5 main activities;
- Legal awareness raising and growing the movement of community
- Consultation and handling cases
- Data collection and gathering evidence for cases and systemic changes
- Networking and Coordination with other stakeholders
- Continuously learning and self-improvement
Paralegals of BRAVEHEART, who are non-legal professionals, but trained on specific laws and regulations related to their duties, are chosen from the communities and therefore they have extensive knowledge of local people and ways to engage them effectively.
They are assigned to identify undocumented people after profiling their target areas, and closely work together with community volunteers in delivering access to the importance of civil documents and consequences of lacking them, and community education. They also make home visits to identify potential clients and encourage them to start application process. Afterwards, paralegals assist them filling up application forms, accompany the clients to various departments and, if needed, negotiate with the officials. They are also responsibilities to keep the records of the progress at every stage for transferring to database for analysis later.
They were supported the capacity building program and learning opportunity, from which, it could get the advantages of convincing the constitutional rights they are entitled and assisting clients and community to solve the problems of citizenship documentations and build their confidence to speak rights. Moreover, they are also trained to find solutions not only for individuals, but also entire communities that they serve.