The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative’s (ABA ROLI) Judicial Strengthening to Improve Court Effectiveness (JUSTICE) program builds upon over a decade of collaboration with local partners to modernize the country’s judicial system and support government and civil society in defending the rule of law. By working closely with all levels of the Philippines judiciary from the Supreme Court down to trial courts throughout the country, the JUSTICE program seeks to improve court efficiency, strengthen contract enforcement and alternative dispute resolution, protect intellectual property rights, and enhance judicial accountability and transparency. The JUSTICE program is funded by a five-year, $20 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), implemented under the U.S.-Philippines Partnership for Growth.
ABA ROLI recently interviewed Zack Spencer, one of the JUSTICE program’s Manila-based pro bono legal specialists, to ask him about his experience volunteering with the program.
ABA ROLI: Please provide us with a brief background/profile of your work.
Zack Spencer: “After graduating from Georgetown Law, I clerked in (the) federal court in Puerto Rico and then worked for a few years as an associate at a large law firm in New York and D.C. I practiced commercial litigation, mostly before the New York state courts and federal courts throughout the country, and devoted significant pro bono time to representation of asylum seekers.”
ABA ROLI: How did you hear about ABA ROLI? What made you interested in volunteering with us?
Zack Spencer: “I first learned about ABA ROLI as a law student in D.C., so I had been familiar with the organization for years when I began to search for opportunities to work in development. Prior to and during law school, I had studied and worked abroad and for international organizations, and I was interested in applying that experience along with my legal background. ABA ROLI’s program was an ideal fit, offering a generous support package and the opportunity to work and to learn alongside outstanding international and local staff.”
ABA ROLI: Describe your work with ABA ROLI. What were some of the highlights of this work?
Zack Spencer: “My work as a long-term specialist is quite varied. For example, I often draft or edit legal training handbooks, donor reports, other written publications and program materials. I’ve also learned the ropes of monitoring and evaluation, which may seem a bit dry (to some), but appeals to my analysis-driven lawyer mind. Given the current political climate in the Philippines, it’s been particularly interesting to participate in broader strategic meetings with our partners in the judiciary and in the development of project and grant proposals.”
ABA ROLI: What was your most memorable moment while at ABA ROLI?
Zack Spencer: “It’s hard to pick a single moment, but I really enjoy visiting the Philippine courts and speaking with our local partners — in particular the clerks and court staff who are affected by court automation, a central component of ABA ROLI’s current program. It’s really fascinating to learn about their work and legal system, and to see how ABA ROLI and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are helping.”
ABA ROLI: What advice would you give to lawyers interested in volunteering with ABA ROLI?
Zack Spencer: “ABA ROLI often advertises opportunities for short and long term opportunities all over the world, and I would say just to check in on those opportunities to see if they might be a match for your legal or linguistic skills, or a particular geographic interest (I was looking for something in the Philippines). If applicable and possible, spend some time learning the language, even if it’s not necessary for the work. I learned to speak conversational Tagalog, and it has made my interactions with local partners even more rewarding.”
To learn more about our pro bono opportunities or work in the Philippines, please contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at [email protected].