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February 27, 2014

Ask an Alum: Drew Engel

Drew Engel

How did you get involved with ABA ROLI (formerly ABA CEELI)?

I was looking for a new and meaningful law-related experience, and I was also looking to volunteer overseas (particularly in Europe) and use my prosecutorial and criminal defense experiences to benefit others. I also wanted to conquer my fear of flying over the ocean (seriously). I noticed an ABA CEELI posting for criminal law lawyers to help develop the rule of law in emerging democracies. The fit seemed like a natural one.

In what country did you serve, and what was the focus of your work  there?

I served in Montenegro, from January 2001–June 2002.

What was your most memorable moment while at ABA ROLI? 

There were several. One was receiving word from those back home that I was "nuts" for giving up a promising career, but that I was also the "envy" of just about everyone for having the guts to try it. On a more serious note, another was the moment when the state anti-corruption czar sat down with me, and we mapped out a beginning strategy for tackling corruption for the whole country of Montenegro—that was pretty heady stuff.

What did your career look like before you volunteered? Did your career change as a result of your service?

Before working with ABA ROLI, I had practiced at a big law firm in Washington, DC, and prosecuted criminal matters in a medium-sized county in southwestern Ohio; after those experiences, I went into private practice in Oxford, Ohio, primarily doing criminal defense, personal injury and other types of work. Afterward, my career trajectory definitely changed; I soon found my way back to Europe and began working at the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), putting together investigations on corruption, organized crime and other matters. After a year, I was appointed an international prosecutor in the Prosecutor's Office of BiH, and after a few more years, I became deputy chief prosecutor and the head of the Special Department for Organized Crime, Economic Crimes and Corruption, and Terrorism and Terrorist Financing, where I later worked as a special advisor. I advised on investigations and prosecutions of serious and complex matters involving organized crime, corruption and terrorism. Needless to say, working in the fields of rule of law development and criminal justice reform has become a way of life and a real passion for me.

What is the best thing you have learned from your ABA ROLI time? 

There would never be just one, good thing—there would be multiple best things. Here's my shortlist of best things learned:  that there's more than one way to do just about anything; that no one has a market on the truth or the best or only way to accomplish a task; that thinking outside the box works, frequently; that one should never underestimate the power of the team; that brainstorming works wonders; that narrow mindedness can kill some really good ideas; that the word "No" is only as powerful as you let it be and that finding a solution to "No" might be closer than one thinks; and that the home office "gets it," but sometimes can't fix it.

Are there ways in which your ABA ROLI experiences benefit your current position?

They benefit me all the time. ABA ROLI opened my eyes to the menu concept for doing international legal work (or virtually any work). Now, before I start any course of action, I listen really well, canvas all the relevant stakeholders for their opinions, try to find common goals and grounds, and then, when appropriate, suggest a menu of solutions from which to choose. Works nearly every time. Everyone likes to have things to choose from in a restaurant—the same seems to be true in finding legal solutions to problems. The setting up of priorities, developing of strategies or over-arching plans to achieve those priorities, monitoring and evaluating implementation/reviewing progress and making final assessments and recommendations—were also things I learned from my ABA CEELI experience.

Among ABA ROLI’s current work, is there a particular program or initiative that you think is particularly important? 

Rule of law assistance in the Balkans continues to be of great importance. I think that this is so for geopolitical, economic, societal and other strategic reasons. The Balkans have historically been connected to regional and international conflict. Stability there can have far-reaching impact. The Middle East and North Africa region, given the recent years, will also be a key region for promoting rule of law development and criminal justice reform.

Share why you think this type of work is critical for improving the rule of law globally.  

Without it and respect for the law and institutions, the people of any given area are bound to take the law (and whatever else) into their own hands—which is a recipe for disaster. Corruption, organized crime and terrorism breed strongly in such environments—and these things disproportionately and negatively affect the poor, uneducated, unconnected and even average citizens on a daily basis. Additionally, the aforementioned can have a deleterious effect upon the likelihood of (or actual) quality and quantity of foreign investment—which affects economies, jobs and standards of living.

Where do you want to be in 10 years from now?

Still working in this field, with my family beside me. Still being in good health. Still running marathons. Still learning something new every day. Still seeing family come holiday times. Still sharing and still being shared with, and still working with/for ABA ROLI.