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Business Law Today

November 2023

Pro Bono Opportunities for Business Law Section Lawyers to Advance the Rule of Law

Robert E Lutz and Don S De Amicis


  • The ABA Business Law Section (“BLS”) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Law Development Program (“CLDP”) are teaming up to offer BLS members pro bono opportunities to assist developing and post-conflict countries in commercial law reform.
  • CLDP operates worldwide, with CLDP attorneys and pro bono volunteers advising on a broad range of commercial law topics, from energy transition to international commercial arbitration. 
  • This article discusses examples of CLDP projects and countries, the legal expertise needed for volunteers, and procedures for BLS member involvement.
Pro Bono Opportunities for Business Law Section Lawyers to Advance the Rule of Law

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Since 1992, shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Commercial Law Development Program of the U.S. Department of Commerce (CLDP) has aided post-conflict and developing countries through commercial law reform. These reforms are critical in establishing legislative, regulatory, and judicial environments conducive to international trade and investment, and in creating a level playing field for U.S. firms seeking to conduct business abroad.

CLDP works closely with the U.S. Department of State and engages in capacity-building technical assistance legal training programs with more than seventy foreign governments. These programs draw upon highly experienced regulators, judges, policymakers, business leaders, and attorneys from both public and private sectors to deliver results that make meaningful and lasting changes to legal and business environments in the host countries (see the CLDP’s website). By providing technical legal assistance to countries seeking to understand and embrace international best practices in the development and implementation of commercial law, CLDP contributes to the global building and strengthening of the rule of law.

Expertise involved

CLDP attorneys and experts advise on commercial law topics, including energy transition, ethics and anti-corruption, information and communications technology, infrastructure (public private partnerships and project finance), intellectual property, private sector development, arbitration, procurement, bankruptcy, investment, and trade.

What does CLDP do and where?

CLDP operates worldwide and offers volunteer opportunities for legal experts to contribute to efforts that advance the rule of law through commercial legal reform. Current programming is conducted in the following regions of the world:

  • Europe and Eurasia;
  • Latin American and the Caribbean;
  • the Middle East and North Africa;
  • South Asia;
  • Southeast Asia and the Pacific; and
  • sub-Saharan Africa.

There are also global initiatives that target the development of commercial law frameworks; regulations and policies in energy sectors; women-owned and small business access to government contracts; digital connectivity; and international commercial arbitration.

Sample projects

A sample of regional projects illustrates the breadth of subject matter involved. For example:

  • To assist the transition of countries to stable, market-based economies that are integrated with the world’s economies, CLDP works with countries to align their rules and processes with international best practices [Eastern Europe, Southeastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus, and Central Asia].
  • CLDP works with government procurement agencies to improve transparency and effectiveness of systems and procedures, and it also supports better insolvency practices [Latin America and the Caribbean].
  • In the Middle East and North Africa, CLDP connects U.S. experts with country counterparts to assist and train on a range of commercial and legal issues, including insolvency in commercial arbitration.
  • Relying upon private sector lawyers, businesspersons, and professionals along with governmental officials, CLDP programming in South Asia includes trade and investment assistance, intellectual property protection, technology transfer and innovation, competition and consumer protection, company and franchise law reforms, energy and mining extractive concerns, information and communication technology, transportation and infrastructure, eCommerce and cyber law, banking and financing, insolvency and bankruptcy, ADR, and women’s economic empowerment.
  • CLDP also works with Southeast Asian and Pacific Island countries to develop transparent legal and procedural frameworks to oversee complex infrastructure projects to attract high-quality investors and developers [Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, Myanmar, Malaysia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and the Pacific Islands].
  • In sub-Saharan Africa, CLDP seeks to reform and strengthen intellectual property legislation, administration, and enforcement on a country basis [Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Mali, South Africa, and Kenya]; and on a regional basis with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), and East African Community (EAC).

On a global-initiative level, CLDP helps countries on the verge of becoming major oil and gas producers establish the capacity to manage resource revenues, maximizing value and transparency.

These projects rely on many pro bono lawyers and experts to help build and implement commercial law frameworks incorporating best practices of contracting, accounting, and taxation to attract foreign investment.

Role of volunteers (pro bono) and their expertise

CLDP operates only when invited by the host government, and first seeks to identify and assess problematic points in a host country’s commercial law framework. CLDP attorneys, who have experience employing a variety of development approaches, assess whether improvements needed in a host country commercial law framework are substantive or procedural, human or institutional. If expertise is needed from the private sector, pro bono volunteers conduct capacity-building training or legislative and regulatory reviews. The CLDP lawyer handling the project works to identify volunteers with the appropriate expertise from various channels, including federal and state judicial organizations and bar associations. The rich range of expertise found in the ABA Business Law Section would greatly enhance pro bono lawyer contributions to CLDP’s work and strengthen the global rule of law.

Procedure for your involvement

As a channel for announcements of CLDP opportunities, the Business Law Section (BLS) Rule of Law Committee will receive periodic notices of CLDP project opportunities and then liaise with BLS committees with the relevant expertise. The type of legal expertise is specified in the CLDP announcement, and CLDP will invite volunteers whose expertise matches CLDP’s project requirements and who are interested in participating for a video interview with CLDP project coordinators. Under this new cooperative program with the BLS, volunteer lawyers—if selected after the interview—may be offered the opportunity to provide in-person or remote technical legal assistance, including, inter alia:

  • seminar-type presentations for foreign officials;
  • simulation-styled training for the development of negotiation skills of foreign officials;
  • desktop or in-person review of draft laws and regulations to ensure they are compatible with international best practices;
  • revision of national investment laws ensuring they are conducive for foreign investors; or
  • service as arbitrators or judges for international moot court competitions.

While some CLDP projects are being conducted on a remote basis, many programs now involve volunteers conducting training programs in foreign countries and engaging in person-to-person interactions with foreign government officials, diplomats, and lawyers. In such cases, the volunteer’s pro bono contribution is time and expertise; CLDP will pay for the international travel costs.