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November 27, 2013

Ask an Alum: Tim F. Stock

How did you get involved?

In 1962, right after I received my law degree, I joined the general counsel’s office of one of the then-Big Three automotive firms. In 1969, I was moved to the firm’s European headquarters in England, which also allowed me to travel internationally, including throughout what is now the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. In 1978, I returned to the U.S. to lead the headquarters legal group responsible for U.S. and international trade law matters and the company’s interests in Latin America and Asia. During those years I became involved with what I think is now called the Center for American and International Law in Dallas, TX, serving as a trustee and Advisory Board member. Its programs and leaders, especially Dave Ellwanger, introduced me to lawyers and judges who had pioneered then-ABA CEELI’s initial efforts in Eastern Europe. Their experience and example encouraged me to offer my services to ABA CEELI when I retired in 1994.

The years my wife and I had spent in Europe in the 70s assured her enthusiastic support for my decision. Her Ukrainian heritage and language skills enabled her to take maximum advantage of life in Ukraine and cushioned much of the culture shock that is part of any overseas assignment. Her language ability also enabled her to use her teaching skills tutoring members of parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in English.

In what countries did you serve? What was the focus of your work there?

Apart from a short visit to Moldova, where I worked with the resident ABA CEELI liaison to plan and present a short course in international business transactions for university students in Chisanau, and brief visits to Sofia and Moscow for ABA CEELI meetings, my office was in Kyiv and my work entirely in Ukraine. I arrived only three years after Ukraine had become independent, saw the introduction of the Hryvna as the unit of currency replacing the interim Karbovanets (coupon) and witnessed Ukraine’s first free elections. It was an exciting time. My task involved working with Ukrainian lawyers who were trying to make their legal system more independent, democratic and self-governing. A primary focus of my work was to complement their efforts to improve the laws governing the profession, legal education and the structure and operation of law firms. To do this, I set out—with the help of my student assistants, Ukrainian lawyers and visiting attorneys from the U.S. and Canada—to organize courses on business law and law practice management in cities throughout the country, including L’viv, Uzhorod, Chernivtsi, Odessa, Kharkiv, Berdyansk and Kyiv. The efforts of the Ukrainian lawyers with whom we met started to bear fruit shortly before my ABA CEELI assignment ended, as private law firms began to be formed (some associated with foreign firms) and leaders of the profession met and set the following November as their target date for creating an independent Ukrainian bar.

What was your most memorable moment from that time?

My memories of that year in Ukraine are a kaleidoscope of unforgettable moments: the demonetized karbovantsi notes fluttering on the sidewalks as children played with them, the unexpected tranquility of Kyiv after Ukraine’s first free elections, my chance encounter with newly elected President Kuchma when visiting a colleague in the government offices, the rich cultural life of Kyiv, the warmth and friendship of my Ukrainian friends (especially my student assistants and their families) and the tranquility of the tiny Ukrainian Catholic church we attended. Most of all, however, I shall never forget the enthusiasm of the lawyers and students who shared in our educational programs, whether in planning, presenting or attending. I especially recall the tireless support of Yuriy Demkiw, my Ukrainian lawyer-colleague from L’viv, without whose help our professional-education road trip would never have happened, and the outstanding cooperation I received from the Canadian and Ukrainian lawyers, and a visiting CEELI specialist, John Carroll, who joined me in that program.

What did your career look like before you volunteered? Did it change afterwards?

I had already decided to retire from my in-house legal position before the CEELI experience emerged as a possibility. I knew that I wanted my retirement to be an active one. So the opportunity to accept the challenge offered by CEELI fit exactly into the future I envisioned for myself and my wife. She and I would happily have stayed longer in Kyiv or accepted another CEELI assignment, but that did not happen. Fortunately, I found another opportunity with an organization doing work in Russia and so my wife and I left the States just a few months later for Yekaterinburg, where, for a year, I concentrated on efforts to assist the Russians in beating their Cold War swords into peacetime plowshares as a defense conversion advisor.

What was the best thing you learned from your ABA CEELI experience?

My CEELI experience confirmed a lesson I had learned many times in my thirty years of practice in the U.S. and Europe: Never overlook the human dimension. Lawyers in courtrooms, parties in negotiations, judges on the bench, all bring with them a rich blend of personal, cultural, intellectual and political experience, which impacts their perceptions and influences their choices. Developing sensitivity to this opportunity enriches and strengthens a lawyer’s professional skills, makes a lawyer more effective and enables a lawyer to serve the client’s interests more effectively.

What are you doing today? What are its challenges? How has the ABA CEELI experience benefited your current work?

When my CEELI assignment ended, in 1996, my wife and I moved to the D.C. area, where family responsibilities (children in their teens and twenties, scattered from California to Moscow) induced us to settle down for a while and limit our outside activities to cultural volunteer work in museums and libraries. After a short while, however, I decided to become involved, for the first time in many years, in domestic legal matters as a civil and family mediator and court-appointed special advocate (CASA) for abused and neglected children. I have found that the multi-cultural aspects of my CEELI experience help me well to deal more effectively, and sensitively, with the many complex and challenging aspects of both my CASA responsibilities and my mediation work.

What do you think is most important in ABA ROLI’s current work?

As I scan the ABA ROLI website and look back on ABA ROLI’s accomplishments over the past years, I find it impossible to single out one area as most important. What does strike me, however, is ABA ROLI’s reliance on the capable and committed volunteers and staff through whom it works, and the equally capable and committed lawyers, judges and officials with whom they work in the field. This professional-to-professional focus seems to be key to ABA ROLI’s success, perhaps because, however great the differences between our own legal system and those of the countries in which ABA ROLI works, a core commitment to professionalism and an effective legal system provides a focus for fruitful cooperation.

Why is ABA ROLI’s work important for improving the rule of law globally?

Unlike the Lord Chancellor in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, ABA ROLI has never thought the law to be “the true embodiment of everything that is excellent” and “without a fault or flaw.” Still less have ABA ROLI staff or volunteers thought that they “embody the law.” It has always seemed to me that everyone involved in the work of ABA CEELI (as it was) or ABA ROLI (as it is today) has seen the law, in all its forms and in all countries committed to the rule of law, as a work in progress, as always needing reform. The sharing of this mindset among legal professionals and those in government in all countries in which ABA ROLI is present is essential to the future health and stability of our world.

Where do you want to be in 10 years?

Now 75, I look forward to a productive and active life a decade hence. I hope that, with our daughter having by then finished undergraduate and professional or graduate school, my wife and I will continue to have the energy and enthusiasm to share our skills and experience with those in other countries, perhaps with ABA ROLI.