Welcome to the Fall issue of the Diversity Committee newsletter. It is hard to believe that another ABA year has passed, and I have started my second year as Diversity Officer. We have many exciting things happening in the committee this year, including an expansion in terms of outreach. We are looking forward to building on last year’s foundation!
Over the last few months, the Section sponsored a well-attended programs related to diversity. For more in-depth coverage, see the article below titled, “Widening the Lens – Diversity Discussion Expands at ABA Annual Meeting and ABA Section of International Law Fall Meeting” as well as the overview of the Pathways in Careers program held at Howard University.
We have started a new outreach campaign to all of the committees as well as all of the liaisons so we can attain the goals and missions of the SIL in terms of what we offer to members, who are members are, outreach to new members and forging new collaborations, as well as to have successful programs with varied points of view. Please consider joining the Diversity Committee.
This issue of the newsletter is full of information about diversity issues as they relate to the practice of law. First, will find our “Attorney Spotlight” and read about SIL member, Hedwin Salmen-Navarro. Then, you’ll move on to an overview about the Section’s diversity programs over the last few months. Next, we have a piece originally run by NALP’s Diversity Section, which describes why diversity really does matter. Then you will find an overview of the book regarding the Next IQ. You can then find out what Mexico Committee leaders are working on and how diversity is impacted. Finally, take a trip to Tanzania and learn about the diverse legal practice in a public interest setting.
As this new ABA year ramps up, we encourage all of you to get involved with the Diversity Committee and begin to consider how diversity impacts your practice. We hope this newsletter spark your interest and gives you a forum in which you can feel free to discuss what can sometimes be sensitive topics. The Diversity Committee is about you, the members, and the issues of diversity that are important to you! We welcome any of your publication or programming ideas (and now you know who to contact directly). Don’t forget—proposals for the 2013 Fall Meeting in London are due in mid-December 2012.
Gretchen C. Bellamy
Attorney Spotlight - Hedwin Salmen-Navarro
Question: When you entered law school, where did you think you would end up once you graduated?
I saw myself working in international law after graduation. I was particularly attracted to NGOs, but I also envisioned a diplomatic career – with UN assignments being particularly attractive. After graduation, an excellent opportunity was offered to me, and I found myself practicing immigration law.
Question: Who has most influenced you in your career or life?
Undoubtedly my former professor Mark R. von Sternberg, a senior attorney with Catholic Charities Community Services/Archdiocese of New York and a Law Professor at Pace University, St. John’s University and New York Law School (where he concentrates on litigation before the Executive Office for Immigration Review) has had the most influence on my career. What I admire about Professor von Sternberg is his orientation concerning human rights, refugee, and international humanitarian law. He has been a role model to me for his versatility and humanitarianism. In addition, I deeply admire Supreme Court Justice Sonia Maria Sotomayor. Despite her economic limitations being raised by a single parent, she worked hard to become an extraordinary achiever. She became an excellent jurist, developing an incisive legal acumen and becoming very successful as a judge and in private practice. Despite her success, Justice Sotomayor never forgot her roots and became actively involved in pro bono community service such as her outstanding work with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.
Question: How have your experiences as a minority influenced or affected your career?
My career has not only been affected by but has been molded by my experiences - not only as a minority but as an immigrant, having to struggle with a different cultural setting and with a family background that had to adjust to unusual economic and educational hardships. These experiences have made me “wear my client’s shoes” so to speak and enable me to argue cases from a humane approach. Therefore, understanding details about the client’s life and plays a crucial role. The trial attorney or immigration judge does not only see a legal argument but a human being as well. We have been successful with this approach in our firm.
Question: Of your many accomplishments, of which are you most proud?
I started my practice from zero! As a young attorney, in less than five years, I was able to establish a practice with a Fifth Avenue headquarters office in New York and another office in Los Angeles.
Question: Who are your clients?
Mostly foreign nationals as I specialize in immigration litigation.
Question: How long have you been a member of the American Bar Association Section of International Law?
I have been a member of the section since 2003 and actively engaged since 2007.
Question: What do you think the Section’s long term diversity goals should be?
The face of America is changing; and the Section has taken a step in the right direction by forming the Diversity Committee and adding the Diversity Officer to the Administration. Businesses must now hire a diverse workforce to be able to navigate in multi-cultural, multi-language settings wherein cultural sensitivities become a dominant component for success or failure. Because of these trends in the business and legal arenas and because of the demographic change in America, long-term goals for the Section should be the education of our members as to this novel and permanent reality; and to acknowledge, accept, and promote diversity within the larger ABA.
Question: How has being a member of the ABA Section of International Law helped you grow as an attorney and strengthened your career?
Being a member within the section has improved my leadership skills. In turn, this has benefited my law firm in many ways by helping me focus on the international implications of law as it pertains to businesses, U.S. immigration law, and human rights issues. It has been a major part of identifying hurdles that can ensnare lawyers into gray areas of practice that could cause grave problems to unsuspecting foreign and local attorneys.
Question: What advice would you give to minority law students and young lawyers?
The advice I would give to law students and young lawyers would be to make the minority aspect of yourself an asset, understand that your uniqueness can instill an added energy drive. Being a minority can also lead to advantages within emerging markets when establishing a law firm.
Question: What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy my career and life so much. Changing people’s lives and the gratification that comes with changing their lives brings me the most professional joy. Preventing someone from being deported – someone who has children and a spouse – someone who has been living in the U.S. for twenty years – protecting his or her rights makes my work most rewarding.
*This profile was originally published in the Fall 2012 edition of the Diversity Newsletter. This article has been rewritten for stylistic purposes, but the essence of the content remains the same.
Widening the Lens – Diversity Discussion Expands at ABA Annual Meeting and ABA Section of International Law Fall Meeting
At the ABA Annual Meeting in August 2012, the Section of International Law held a Presidential Showcase Panel titled, “Dealing with Diversity Objectives in a Global Environment.” The discussion focused on whether American diversity efforts are nothing more than "positive discrimination" and the ethics surrounding that issue. The complex issue of American multinational corporations using their leverage as large corporate clients to promote a business case for diversity among American law firms and lawyers was discussed by our stellar panel – all whom represented the diverse viewpoints. The stellar list of panelists included Joseph K. West, President & CEO of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association; Laura Stein, General Counsel of Clorox; Ernest Tuckett, General Counsel of Dupont Canada; and John Rider, Chief Client Officer at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP. At the end of the discussion, audience members had a better grasp on how some of the largest multinational corporations dealing with the American emphasis on diversity and what they are doing in the diversity and inclusion arena.
In October 2012, the ABA Section of International Law (“ABA-SIL”) moved the diversity discussion to South Beach for its annual Fall Meeting. The Diversity Committee sponsored a number of programs including Pathways to Employment, a program geared to younger members of the ABA-SIL. Chair of the Section, Bart Legum; Vice Chair, Marcelo Bombau; Diversity Officer, Gretchen Bellamy; and Council Member and Former Section Chair, Josh Markus enlightened law students and young lawyers about how to shape one’s international public or international private career. Another well-attended program “How Can Diversity Help or Hinder Cross-Cultural Negotiations” had Marcelo Bombau, Salli Swartz, Ingrid Busson-Hall, Josh Markus, and Terri Morrison (author of Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands) leading the laughter and discussion on the potential pitfalls of cross-cultural negotiations. The last program that the Diversity Committee sponsored was “Right Before Our Eyes: Occupational Segregation and Inequities Faced by Afro-Latinos in the Workplace. Moderated by Gretchen Bellamy, experts bringing light to this issue about upsetting discriminatory practices in Latin America and the Caribbean included Lisette Lavergne of Salmen Navarro & Lavergne, P.C.; Gabriel Dejarden of Squire Sanders in the Dominican Republic; and Marten Brienen of the University of Miami.
The discussion surrounding diversity and inclusion is an important one in the ABA-SIL. We are committed not only to furthering the discussion about the issue, but also to demonstrating how diversity touches each lawyer’s practice, whether here or abroad. We are looking forward to the Spring Meeting and being part of the diversity discussion there. If you have ideas for the London 2013 Fall Meeting, proposals are now being accepted. Please contact Diversity Officer Gretchen Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Diversity Really Does Matter
This article was submitted on behalf of the NALP Diversity Section.
Convincing non-diverse lawyers, who are the decision-makers in most legal organizations, that diversity really matters in the business and practice of law is one of the biggest challenges to advancing diversity in the legal profession.
Advocates have learned that arguments predicated on altruism are rarely useful since many lawyers don’t ascribe to the moral or ethical case for diversity. The traditional business case for diversity is not working well either. According to research by the Minority Corporate Counsel Association, only a small percentage of corporate law departments actually follow through on their pledge to change business relationships with outside counsel based on law firms’ metrics or diversity efforts (8% of the 544 law departments surveyed).
Taking diversity efforts to the next level requires more compelling answers to the question of “why” diversity is essential in the practice and business of law. Those answers can be found in cutting-edge theory and research studies.
A New Framework for a New Century — The Next IQ
Dr. Arin Reeves, President of Nextions LLC and the author of major national research studies on diversity in the legal profession, has written a new book that sets forth a compelling proposition for diversity: individuals and organizations cannot be as smart or competitive in the 21st century without deliberately incorporating diverse perspectives in their thought processes and decisions.
A best-seller for the ABA and now available from the NALP bookstore, The Next IQ: The Next Level of Intelligence for 21st Century Leaders (2012) challenges the way we think about intelligence in our fast-paced and ever-changing workplaces. According to Dr. Reeves, personal intelligence (measured by traditional IQ tests) has its limitations, especially in terms of our ability to quickly gather, analyze, and transform information into actionable insights. Using several real-world examples from the business and legal sectors, Dr. Reeves makes the case that including diverse perspectives is the only way to achieve a competitive advantage in any workplace.
As legal issues become more complex, multi-dimensional, and increasingly global, the ability to gain a competitive advantage and “see around corners” for clients is critically important.
This intersection between inclusiveness and intelligence (The Next IQ) transforms the “why” discussion from “diversity is important because the client says so” (the traditional business case) to “diversity and the different perspectives it brings makes me a smarter, more effective lawyer (or organization) for my clients.”
More importantly, Dr. Reeves’ book focuses on the most compelling motivator for change — self-interest. Moving from external to internal reasons for doing something is a profound shift for explaining why diversity matters. The reality is that most lawyers simply will not embrace diversity efforts until they determine “What’s In It For Me (WIIFM)”? The Next IQ goes to the heart of “WIIFM” since excellent client service can only be achieved by deliberately seeking out and incorporating difference into your thinking.
Many are familiar with the general legal research studies demonstrating that diverse teams of people generate more creative and innovative work products. There is also more specific research on gender and racial/ethnic diversity and its profound impact in the workplace.
Increase predictability of case outcomes:
Nearly 500 litigators across the U.S. with cases expected to go to trial within a year were asked to estimate the outcome as well as the degree of certainty in their prediction. Only one-third of the lawyers were accurate in their predictions while 44% over-estimated the final case outcome. The researchers found a higher percentage of male attorneys were overconfident in their estimations. This overconfidence led them to trial instead of settlement. Thus, clients interested in more accurate predictions and perhaps better case outcomes should insist on gender diversity on their trial teams.
Improve group dynamics and performance:
More financial success:
Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Reduce unconscious bias:
Increase analytical and critical group thinking:
The all-white jury panels spent less time deliberating, made more errors with respect to the evidence in the case, and considered fewer perspectives in reaching their decisions. The jurors serving on the racially diverse jury panels actually worked harder to listen to and process the information presented in the trial as evidenced by the fact that they engaged in deeper analysis of the facts in the case, made fewer mistakes, and participated in lengthier discussions.
In essence, white jurors serving on homogenous panels fell into the trap of “group think” and became intellectually lazy while their counterparts on racially diverse panels were much more engaged in critical and analytical thinking. The mere presence of diversity can increase cognitive ability and functioning in decision-making groups.
Inclusiveness Is a Catalyst for Diversity
Clearly, diversity is important in the business and practice of law. Individual lawyers and legal organizations interested in attaining excellence in legal services must incorporate diverse perspectives. And clients should assert their own self-interest in dealing with outside counsel by going beyond the traditional business case to emphasize the research-proven benefits achieved through diversity.
But the mere presence of diversity does not automatically guarantee diverse perspectives will be valued or integrated into the organization. Law firms, corporate law departments, and government law offices are doing a poor job of creating inclusive environments designed to retain and advance female and diverse attorneys. According to the latest NALP Foundation law firm study, minority attorneys’ attrition rates rose (again) by 3% last year, while non-diverse attorneys’ attrition rates remained stable.
Legal organizations cannot begin to maximize and leverage the many advantages of diversity, including excellence in client service, until they make genuine progress, through inclusiveness initiatives, to retain, develop, and advance female and diverse lawyers.
It is time to stop talking about diversity and start taking action — through inclusiveness — to make it really matter.
The Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI) is a Denver-based nonprofit dedicated to advancing diversity in the legal profession by actively educating and supporting private and public sector legal organizations in their own individual campaigns to create cultures of inclusion. For more information about diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession, see CLI’s online resources at www.legalinclusiveness.org.
The Mexico Committee–Nurturing Committee Activity and Diversity
Patrick Del Duca, Alejandro Suárez Méndez, and Juan Carlos Velázquez de León Obregón, authors of this contribution, served as co-chairs of the Mexico Committee of the ABA Section of International Law during a four year period of dramatic upswing in its activities, capped by a Section of International Law award for “Most Improved Committee”. The Mexico Committee’s upward trajectory is more fully evidenced by the issues of Mexico Update, the Mexico Committee newsletter, available on the Mexico Committee webpage. Not by accident, the participation of women in the leadership and work of the Mexico Committee grew dramatically as well in this period. Indeed, as co-chairs of the Committee we committed to gender diversity as a key foundation of the vitalization of the Committee.
Our Section celebrates diversity in its work along many dimensions, including but not limited to, under-represented minority groups, gender, seniority in practice, practice context, jurisdiction and nationality. As we began our stewardship of the leadership of the Mexico Committee, the ebb of the Committee’s activity nonetheless had left glimmers of diversity on each of these dimensions, except gender. In plain words, we were entirely male.
Some of our members did not see this as a priority challenge. Indeed, some of our members did not appreciate the importance of the celebration of diversity to our Committee’s work. Affirmations included: “We inherently count as ‘diverse’ because we are predominantly Mexican lawyers”; “Parochial US notions of diversity do not apply internationally”; “Women are not focused on transnational business matters”; “It is difficult to recruit women of sufficient practice seniority”. Obviously, we disagreed. The success of the Committee over the period of our stewardship of it is founded squarely on embrace of diversity in all the ways that our Section celebrates it, including gender diversity. From no women involved in Mexico Committee activities, the Mexico Committee has achieved significant engagement of women in all phases of its activities and leadership.
The broad challenge that we faced was to create a community in which lawyers, male and female, would be eager to take part. Although we had no active female members, we also had far fewer than the desired number of male members as well. The secret of what we did to achieve a dynamic committee is simply to follow the well trod path of implementing the classic elements of a Section of International Law committee. Our implementation of this path was to value every member, investing the effort to understand how the Committee could best avail itself of the unique contributions that each could make. Much like an American university generously claiming its alumni as eligible for fundraising outreach, we sought to claim every prospective member as one of our own, a valued member of our community. In doing so, we made certain not to neglect the recruitment and consideration of women for all phases of our activities.
We began by holding monthly Committee calls, making a display of keeping them to a half hour to avoid volunteer fatigue, and we always made sure that we had some topic to address, even if attendance was limited. On the poorly attended calls, we attempted to understand the practice focus of the participants, so as to suggest ways attractive to them, for them to participate in the committee activity. More particularly, we tried to leave each participant on a call with a specific initial opportunity to contribute to the Committee that would leave the participant feeling supported and spotlighted, without more than modest effort on the part of the participant.
Apart from the monthly calls, we asked each of the Committee vice-chairs to take responsibility for some aspect of the Committee activity. Concurrently, we made sure that each of the basic committee roles was covered. Thus, we found someone other than the co-chairs to serve as the Committee webmaster. We found a member willing to provide the notices of the monthly calls and to handle the related logistics. And, we found an editor for the Committee’s Year in Review contribution. This left us as co-chairs the time to focus on recruitment and integration of active Committee members.
We made sure to find roles for everyone who desired to have a role. Thus, in addition to the standard roles of officers for communications, membership, newsletter editor, special projects and policy, we established a point person for the Committee’s “City Coordinator Initiative”, a “government relations” officer, and a liaison from the Committee to another Section. By way of example of the effort to find roles for everyone, the city coordinator initiative arose from the realization that we had clusters of members in cities such as Mexico City, New York and Washington, DC, but also in cities such as Ciudad Juarez/El Paso, Phoenix and Seattle. This realization created opportunities ranging from the convening of a simple brown bag lunch to allow our local members to greet each other, to organizing a formal presentation at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC on the occasion of the visit of a senior Mexican official, accompanied by commentary from locally-based members expert in the relevant subject matter.
We also made the effort to incorporate and recognize individuals whose position arose elsewhere in our Section, but somehow related to the work of our committee. Thus, we made sure to involve our Section’s liaison to the Barra Mexicana in the heart of the Committee’s work, and we established close relationships with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative staff focused on Mexico.
As co-chairs we coached our members in every aspect of Committee opportunity. We started with coaching our members on how to propose and organize seasonal meeting panel presentations. The panel presentations at seasonal meetings sponsored by the Mexico Committee over the last several years have consistently shared the stage between men and women. Women in senior roles at law firms, international organizations, and multinational corporations have participated as panel co-chairs, moderators and speakers, as have women in the start up phases of their careers. Moreover, as the Committee co-chairs have coached lawyers new to committee activities, lawyers on the cusp of law firm partnership, lawyers early in their careers, senior lawyers, and lawyers seeking to develop new law firms, among others, on the benefits and art of navigating the seasonal meeting program proposal and presentation process, we have taken care to include women as the targets of the recruitment and leadership roles for such programs, and we have been unstinting in our efforts to assure the introduction to prospective program co-chairs of women who would enrich the program offering.
We created numerous, varied opportunities for our members to meet at the seasonal meetings, on the thought that breaking the ice and coming to know friendly faces would facilitate collaboration throughout the Committee’s work, but also give Committee members additional reason to attend the seasonal meetings of the Section. We also designated Committee members as “reporters” to attend any panel at a season meeting featuring a Mexican lawyer. The reporter’s duty included to meet the speaker and to write a short review for the Mexico Committee newsletter. The designated members appear to have appreciated the honor of the mission, and the speaker constituted a further recruit for the Committee. Of course, both women and men have benefited from serving in the reporter roles.
We brought the collaboration of our Committee to appropriate events that our members were organizing in the context of other organizations. Our members involved in such organizations felt supported, and our Committee’s visibility and contacts increased. We abounded in the creation of informal, issue or task focused working groups, exercising what we considered our inherent powers as committee co-chairs to confirm the appointment of committee members as participants in such groups or as conveners of them.
Many tasks we recognized that we could not effectively undertake on our own. We launched a newsletter effort to afford our members writing opportunities. To do so, we established a partnership with a leading Mexican law faculty to collaborate in the production of Mexico Update, our Mexico Committee newsletter. The partnership enabled us to maintain a flow of high quality content for publication, focused on the significant emerging developments of Mexican law. It also offered an interactive marriage of audience and content for practitioners and academics, for US and Mexican lawyers, all of whom valued the publication of cutting edge content, presented in high quality English.
Although we made sure never to have a negative interaction with any member of our committee, not everything worked immediately. However, enough did take root that we began to attract active members. As some of these new participants were women, we made sure that they, like every other new recruit, were made to feel welcome and valued, and as consistent with their interest, able to take up leadership roles. We also, as we had the opportunity to extend invitations to members and prospective members, to participate in committee activities, e.g. participation in a panel as a moderator or speaker, made certain that we identified well-qualified women, as well as well-qualified men, for such opportunities. In the annual cycle of committee leadership appointments, we benefited from the active support of our then Division Chair, Mark Wojcik, who readily supported our efforts to recruit and assure the appointment of diverse Committee leaders from the increasingly deep bench of active Committee members.
We celebrated all our members’ achievements whenever we could, taking care not to overlook the achievements of our female members and the models of success offered by women prominent in the subject matter focus of our Mexico Committee. Thus, for example when a longtime member of our Section’s leadership, Carol Mates, was honored with the Mayre Rasmussen Award for the Advancement of Women in International Law, we made sure to share the good news with the Mexico Committee membership through the Committee newsletter, claiming her as one of our own. Likewise, when the Mexico Committee held its June 2012 standalone program in Mexico City, we had the honor of Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero, a member of Mexico’s Supreme Court, not only accepting our invitation to serve as a keynote speaker for the gathering, delivering a substantive address on the globalization of law and the roles of national and international courts in that process (published in a recent issue of Mexico Update, available on the Mexico Committee web page—we are proud of our Committee’s newsletter and hence mention it again), but also generously sharing her experiences on the challenges facing women undertaking careers in the law in Mexico.
The organization of the Mexico City June 2012 standalone program offered a further opportunity for the affirmation of gender diversity in the Mexico Committee’s activity. The Mexico Committee Co-Chairs early in the planning process undertook that the program reflect gender diversity. The results of the program as conducted demonstrate the progress in respect of gender diversity within the Committee, but also of the opportunity for further progress. Of the 55 names mentioned in the definitive program, twelve are of women. Each panel of the eight panels was scheduled to include at least one woman. Four of the panels each included two women. As mentioned, the opening night keynote speaker for the event was Justice Olga Sanchez Cordero of Mexico’s Supreme Court. Her remarks have inspired the Committee’s launch of a women’s initiative, that we enthusiastically support. As an initial step in respect of that launch, Mexico Committee member Rene Alva represented the Mexico Committee at the ABA Women’s Caucus gathering held at the 2012 ABA annual meeting. His report to the Committee of the issues there addressed will inform the ongoing efforts of the Committee.
The activity of the Mexico Committee has prospered. Diversity, in respect of gender and otherwise, has been essential to this prosperity. The community created within and around the Mexico Committee is attractive to its members because it is diverse in many dimensions, including gender as well as many more. And, without the attractiveness of the high level and quality of the Mexico Committee activity, that community and its diversity would not be able to continue to prosper. In our view, nurturing diversity is the sound path towards building a successful committee. And, assuring the quality of member interactions with, through and on behalf of a committee optimizes the ability to achieve diversity. We were privileged to have had the opportunity to lead the Mexico Committee in a period of growth and enriched by the diversity of its leadership and membership that grew with it.
Pathways Program at Howard University School of Law
The Section partnered with Howard Law on a joint Pathways to Employment in International Law program on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 in the Pauline Murray Conference Room. Speakers included Heidi Boas of Catholic Charities, Christian N. Nauvel of Willkie Farr & Gallagher, LLP, Susan Notar of the U.S. Department of State, Reid Whitten of Sheppard, Mullin Richter & Hampton. Approximately 40 students attended the lunch program and discussed career options in international law including human rights and refugee work, opportunities in government, opportunities to work overseas and opportunities at a law firm. If you would like to host a program in Spring 2013 contact Membership Director Angela Benson at email@example.com.
Crossing Borders: Reliving the African Probate & Policy Initiative in Tanzania
Being actively engaged in the ABA Section of International Law as the Diversity Officer, ABA-SIL liaison to several organization on the African continent as well as a Vice Chair for Research for IMPOWR has provided me with opportunities I would not have had without the support of the Section. I never dreamed that by developing the International Legal Exchange trip that took delegates from the ABA Section of International Law to Rwanda and Tanzania in March 2012 that I would be lucky enough to head back to Tanzania just a few months later.
In my quest to revolutionize legal education, I created an innovative legal program called the African Probate & Policy Initiative at the University of Miami School of Law, where I serve as the Director of International Pro Bono & Public Interest Programs. I conceived of, planned (including curricular and logistical), and executed the Initiative, in which I took four law students who had never traveled to Africa to Tanzania to draft wills for marginalized individuals and worked in conjunction with the Tanzanian Women Lawyers Association and Her Excellency, Tanzanian Ambassador to the United States, Mwanaidi Maajar, the Tanganyika Law Society, the Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association, and the University of Dar es Salaam. I led the students to four different cities in the country, meeting with high level officials (including those from such organizations as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, and the Pan African Lawyers Union), and conducting seminars on probate law and land tenure for men and women around the country.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I recognized the need to create an initiative that would have impact and leave a lasting effect on the communities and women who were served. The goal of the Initiative was to educate women about their rights with regard to land tenure as well as property and then assist the women in protecting those assets. I also recognized the need to include men in the conversation – to demonstrate to them that dying intestate puts a man’s family at risk of landgrabbing and even worse situations (such as forced marriage). Over the course of five weeks (including one week for training) and nearly 18,000 miles, the four students and I met with 15 different groups of women, drafted 103 wills, and completed 315 hours of pro bono service. Any of the 94 women and 11 men may return to the local partners and change their will at any time and as many times as he or she would like.
After completion of the first week of training and drafting in Mwanza, one of the attorneys assisting with the project who had been practicing for 25 years pulled me aside and explained that he had never done even one hour of pro bono service and had never given back to his own community. He was embarrassed but explained that through my Initiative he is now resolved to make a change and provide legal services on a pro bono basis to the neediest members of his community. He also plans to continue the training that I designed. This attorney’s realization was completely collateral to the expected outcomes of the project. I initially anticipated that it would be fairly easy to find and convince the participants to draft wills – it was easy to make an assumption when writing a plan 8,000 miles away. However, I quickly found that I needed to adjust the plan, design a training module, and use her own personal story and experiences to convince the participants of the importance of wills. The extraordinary outcomes are a result of my dedication, leadership, and undying commitment to serve the women of Tanzania. I continue to think creatively, so I can continue making linkages where there have been none, and assist marginalized women to realize their rights.
For more information about the Initiative, please see ABA Journal coverage.
Questions or comments?