While the legal incubator model has gained popularity in other countries, it was introduced in Bulgaria less than three months ago, in early December 2019, when the first legal incubator was founded and 13 people applied to take part in it.
The legal incubator supports students, recent university graduates, and future lawyers committed to social justice who want to improve their knowledge and skills. Over the course of 18 months, mentors and legal professionals will work with these individuals on real cases involving low-income individuals who need legal help but do not have access to it. This is the idea and the purpose of the legal incubator model.
Dian Dankov, a 31-year-old man from Razgrad, is one of 13 lawyers who are being trained at the incubator. Dian is of Roma origin, like 11 of the other trainees.
"It's not easy to complete a law degree. It's even harder to grow professionally in this field, but the hardest thing is to change people’s opinion and attitude."
"When people see we are of Roma origin, the first thing that comes to their mind is that we do not abide by the law, that we steal and violate the rules. So, we have to overcome this challenge, change people's opinions, and make it clear that we obey the law, and that we are there to protect their interests," Dian explains.
Dian completed a law degree 6 years ago and has had a legal practice ever since. He joined the legal incubator because he wanted to help people and gain experience. In January, he had the chance to work on four cases, most of which involved people with low income and social status. These people used different channels to get in touch with the incubator consultants - mentors and social networks among others.
“It is not only the people from the Roma community who seek help and advice,” Dian says.
All cases are different, like people’s lives. The incubator lawyers work on property problems, unresolved parental rights issues, and more. Recently, they helped a woman who had an issue regarding the survivor's pension of her child after the death of her husband.
“It's like in healthcare – if you have money, you pay and you're fine. If you don't have money, you suffer,” Dian says, explaining why he loves his job and what motivates him to help people free of charge.
"People from small towns and settlements lack information and do not trust the institutions. These factors, along with lack of money, put them in a number of difficult situations,” Dian says. He also mentions that in a small village in Bulgaria, the notary kept telling people that they had to wait for a month and a half for an appointment to see him.
That’s why the first thing the participants and the mentors in the legal incubator try to do is to build trust in their relationships with clients before advising them in the best possible way.
"I feel happy that I can provide actual help to people. I can see the result of my work as I practice the profession, and I gain experience," the young lawyer says.
Dian has to pass the exam before the Supreme Bar Council in order to acquire attorney capacity.