August 01, 2016

Celebrating International Pro Bono

Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative

A common thread in ABA ROLI programs in more than 50 countries is the role of pro bono legal specialists who volunteer their time and expertise to the effort, providing an average $2 million in pro bono legal assistance annually. These contributions are a huge boon to ABA ROLI programs and provide ABA members with a meaningful opportunity to give back. 

At the upcoming ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco, ABA ROLI’s Annual Rule of Law Luncheon will celebrate international pro bono and in particular the work of two extraordinary volunteers, Tom Lindley of Portland, OR, and Rebecca Fisher of St. Paul, MN. To learn more about the August 8th Luncheon, which will also feature a keynote conversation with California Supreme Court Justice Mariano Florentino Cuéllar, and to purchase tickets, see www.ambar.org/luncheon.

Anticipating the Luncheon, I thought I’d use this column to give Update readers a sneak preview, highlight Tom’s and Rebecca’s illustrative pro bono contributions to our programs and outline ways that lawyers and judges can get involved with our programs.

Pro Bono Champions

Tom Lindley is a partner in the Portland, OR office of Perkins Coie, where he serves as firm-wide chair of the Energy, Environment, and Resources practice. Recognized in 2014 by Best Lawyers’ Portland as Environmental Law Lawyer of the Year, his day job is to assist clients throughout the United States in complex environmental matters. On the side, he and his colleagues have become invaluable resources to ABA ROLI’s efforts to address China’s critical environmental problems and their threat to citizens’ basic health and safety, especially that of disadvantaged citizens living in low-income and rural areas. Tom began supporting ABA ROLI’s work in China in 2014, when he served as an expert presenter at a workshop on heavy metal pollution laws and regulations, in addition to providing individual strategy consultations with ABA ROLI’s grassroots environmental partners. Building on the success of these initial meetings in China, the following year, Tom and an associate, Laura Kerr, worked closely via teleconference with ABA ROLI Beijing-based staff to develop curricula and materials for eleven international technical exchange activities with Chinese counterparts. In May 2015, with financial support from their firm and Tom’s own pocket, Tom and Laura traveled to China and were featured presenters in a three-day Environmental Pollution Lawyering Skills Workshop in Chengdu City; three technical discussions in Beijing on U.S. toxic waste regulation for leading environmental scholars engaged in drafting China’s key environmental laws and policies; and six consultation meetings for environmental lawyers and civil society organizations developing change-making litigation strategies. The market value of Perkins Coie’s contribution to ABA ROLI’s China program totaled over $126,000. And more importantly, Tom’s passion for environmental protection and for improving the environmental health for China’s vulnerable citizens was infectious, inspiring Chinese environmental lawyers to undertake ground-breaking impact litigation that is making a concrete difference in the lives of countless Chinese citizens. We’re excited to tell Tom’s story at the 2016 Rule of Law Luncheon this summer.

Rebecca Fisher hails from St. Paul, MN, where her practice focuses on criminal defense and she maintains an active involvement in the Minnesota Bar. Last year, ABA ROLI’s colleagues in the Kosovo Bar Association (KBA) asked for advice on strengthening their programs, Judge Jack Tunheim, Chief Judge of the Federal District of Minnesota and chair of our regional council for Europe and Eurasia, thought the Minnesota Bar might help, and Rebecca heard the call. She joined a group of Minnesota Bar members who funded their own travel to Kosovo last summer to see how they could help. Several areas of potential cooperation emerged from those meetings, including how the KBA could increase young lawyer participation in the bar. As a past president of the Young Lawyers Section for the Minnesota Bar, Rebecca followed up on those in-person meetings with numerous telephone consultations with young lawyers she met in Kosovo to advise them on how to structure a section, fundraise and become actively involved in the bar. She has also tapped the Minnesota Bar’s Criminal Law section for resources and information on criminal law training for the KBA and worked with Minnesota bar members to raise $2,500 to support a return visit by the Kosovo bar leaders to Minneapolis. In May, that work came to fruition and Rebecca and her colleagues hosted the Kosovar group in Minneapolis, where they learned about bar operations, specialty sections (including young lawyers and criminal law) and CLE. Rebecca’s pro bono efforts have helped spawn an enriching sister bar relationship between the Minnesota and Kosovo bars that we expect to pay rule of law dividends for years. In highlighting her work at our luncheon this summer, we hope to stimulate similar initiatives in other jurisdictions.

International Pro Bono Matchmaking

While Tom and Rebecca have made extraordinary contributions to ABA ROLI programs, our pro bono opportunities come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of the work can be done right at one’s desk, as 18 volunteers throughout the U.S. and Western Europe have been doing over the past year to review and analyze Libya’s Commercial Code and other laws and regulations affecting company participation in Libya’s economy and the overall business environment. Other engagements involve travel to a country for a weeklong training or consultation, and yet others extend up to three, six and even twelve months. 

An average legal specialist has a law degree, 10+ years of legal experience, and international work experience with possible language requirements. ABA ROLI’s substantive needs span almost every area of practice as well as institutional capacity building on topics such as strategic planning, fundraising, diversity and inclusion, court administration, curriculum development, program management, finance and communications.

Information about ABA ROLI pro bono opportunities is available at http://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/opportunities/legal_specialists.html. Interested legal professionals can subscribe to ABA ROLI’s Opportunities Newsletter at http://www.americanbar.org/advocacy/rule_of_law/opportunities.html and submit their resume and areas of interest to jobs@americanbar.org. In practice, many of these opportunities come up on relatively short notice, and we often look to colleagues in relevant entities to help us identify qualified volunteers.

We have also worked with several ABA entities to develop a roster of go-to volunteers. For example, anticipating the need to send up to 70 judges to Egypt for short-term training engagements over the next two years, we worked with the Judicial Division. As a result of this effort, over 180 members of the Judicial Division volunteered to serve on a roster of experts willing to assist with development and teaching of courses for judges in Egypt. Other ABA entities interested in working with us to develop similar programs for their members should contact Greg Taylor at gregory.taylor@americanbar.org.

ABA staff also provide invaluable services to ABA ROLI on a pro bono basis. For example, ABA ROLI worked with the ABA’s Judicial Division to host an extensive presentation on court administration for a visiting delegation of 10 Macedonian judges and to assess the functions of the Court Management Office of the Philippines Supreme Court to provide tailored recommendations on case flow management and court performance measures. The Section of International Law helped coordinate a study trip to Myanmar and Cambodia. The Criminal Justice Section and the Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence helped to develop an expert review of prosecution training modules for homicide and domestic violence cases.

All of these pro bono contributions strengthen ABA ROLI’s programs tremendously and distinguish us from many other organizations working to advance the rule of law globally. I hope that Update readers will join us at the August 8th Annual Rule of Law Luncheon to learn more and get involved!

Director, ABA Rule of Law Initiative