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CONTACT:  Marie Contreras, Benchmark Institute
(415) 695-9296

September 29, 2000

San Francisco, CA -- Benchmark Institute welcomed staff members from Tirana Legal Aid Society (TLAS) in Albania to the 13th Annual National Public Interest Law College of Advocacy held at Presentation Center, Los Gatos, California USA, September 22-29, 2000.  The four staff members attending the College include the project leader, Ardjana Kalo, staff attorney Kostandin Kazanxhi, paralegal Rajmonda Bozo and office manager Neritana Begaj.

A unique, highly interactive training, the College of Advocacy assists poverty lawyers and advocates to develop advocacy and leadership skills as well as gain exposure to best practices within the legal aid community. The four TLAS staffers received scholarships from Benchmark Institute (a nonprofit organization that trains legal aid and public interest staff) and Presentation Center (a retreat and educational center operated by the Sisters of the Presentation headquartered in San Francisco) which enabled them to attend.

Benchmark is the only nonprofit organization in the United States whose mission focuses solely on training and development for the public interest legal community.  Benchmark was introduced to Tirana Legal Aid Society through the American Bar Association’s Central and East European Law Initiative (ABA-CEELI), a project that advances the rule of law by supporting the legal reform process in Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States of the former Soviet Union.  ABA-CEELI’s work with TLAS includes providing pro bono advisors who give recommendations regarding policy, office management systems, strategic planning, legal ethics, community outreach, budgets and other considerations.  More information about ABA-CEELI can be found on its website at

A project of CAFOD U.K. (the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development) and SOROS/COLPI (Open Society Foundation for Albania/Constitutional & Legal Policy Institute), TLAS was established in January 1999 and is the first full service legal aid society in Albania.  TLAS helps people in need make effective use of Albania’s new legal system.

A unique, one-of-a-kind training, the College of Advocacy is designed for people who help low-income people meet their legal needs.  Benchmark has identified the skills, issues and best practices that lawyers, advocates and legal assistants need to survive and thrive in their work with poor people.  The training is highly interactive and offers numerous opportunities to practice skills such as interviewing, problem solving and negotiation as well as how to institute practices that allow people to do excellent work with limited resources and time.  Stated TLAS project leader and lawyer Ardjana Kalo, “We need this kind of training.  It shall give us a concrete view on Legal Aid Societies and their best practices.”

Kalo, Bozo, Kazanxhi and Begaj are participating in the College with the support of the Sister Doris Cavanaugh Scholarship Fund and the Grace and Porter Lines Scholarship.  The Presentation Center of Los Gatos awarded $1,000 from the Sister Doris Cavanaugh Scholarship Fund to defray expenses for the entire group.  Rajmonda Bozo is attending with the additional support of $500 from the Grace and Porter Lines Scholarship Fund, an educational scholarship administered by Benchmark Institute for staff who provide legal services to poor or other underrepresented people.

“It’s exciting to see the energy and belief that people have towards developing a democracy and amazing the faith that democracy will work after 50 years of dictatorship. Their constitution was approved only last year and early on in its development people.

were making sure that poor people would get access to the court system.” said Barbara Bayes, Executive Director of West Virginia Advocates.  She spent a month in Albania in March consulting with TLAS on setting up systems for service.  Ms. Bayes is one of the three advisors ABA-CEELI has sent at different times to assist TLAS.  The other two attorney advisors were Bruce Perrone and Richard Langan.

“Besides hands-on strategies, techniques and approaches to legal aid work, TLAS staff will leave as part of an ongoing network of people dedicated to creating justice systems that work for everyone,” said Rosemary French, President of Benchmark Institute.  “I think it’s great,” French stated, “It presents us an opportunity to examine the U.S. legal system through a different perspective.  It extends our public interest legal community internationally.  TLAS participation in the College of Advocacy will enrich American and Albanian participants and ultimately their clients.”