As we all note, in an increasingly globalized legal world, the need for more intense and deeper collaboration among its players is both evident and important. The need for this collaboration spans all internationally related legal fields, be it human rights, disputes, trade, personal data, bilateral or multilateral investment agreements, intellectual property, and more. A wide array of public and private law issues that now see their borders both expanded to, and invaded by, different legal practices and dimensions are at the cornerstone of international exchanges and collaborations taking place among bar organizations, public agencies and officers, magistrates, and private practitioners alike.
In this regard, I would like to refer to two distinct initiatives spearheaded by the American Bar Association Section of International Law that serve the purpose of trying to build bridges and to close gaps among different legal cultures, namely our ILEX Trips and our City Chapters.
I had the honor and the privilege of chairing the Section of International Law during the 2014–2015 ABA year. I was part of a group of private practitioners, public officers, and judges who went on an international legal exchange (ILEX) trip to Cuba and Ecuador. A few of us continued to the Galapagos Islands as an add-on ecological trip. The initial vision for the trip included a visit to Venezuela, but that portion of the trip was not included due to political instability and security reasons.
There were a number of reasons these countries were put on our radar, all stemming from our desire to understand their political regimes, such as socialism, in the cases of Ecuador and Venezuela, and communism in the case of Cuba, as well as a certain degree of intrigue. We wanted to better understand their legal organizations, commercial atmospheres, human rights situations, judicial independence, and, more generally, their lifestyles. Our many prior contacts created possibilities for a first-hand grasp of a range of official and non-official viewpoints across a range of stakeholders, which we considered of importance for understanding the commonalities and differences across our legal systems, structures, access to justice, and approaches to rule of law.
Apart from the reasons that moved us to propose these host countries, we sought to achieve the following goals, which, to a certain extent, are largely common to most ILEX trips.
- Introduction of the ABA and the Section of International Law: To introduce the ABA and, more specifically, our Section to public officials and leaders from local bar associations, industry, academia, and civil society in the host country.
- ABA values: To emphasize our core values of respect of the rule of law, human rights, and professional ethics as among the ABA values that comprise the foundational DNA of our association. Not only did we want our hosts to know who we are but also how we operate and what the ABA stands for in society, domestically and internationally.
- Collaborative efforts: To explore possible areas where the Section of International Law and the larger ABA might be able to provide legal and technical assistance to our hosts in key areas that they may face, such as legal education, magistrate training, trial practice, and mediation techniques. Where the scope goes beyond the Section of International Law, the Section can serve as a facilitator to the specialization of different ABA entities.
- Global nature of the ABA: To foster awareness of the openness of the ABA and opportunities for non-U.S. legal professionals to become active members within the ABA. In many foreign countries, the ABA is perceived as limited only to U.S. attorneys. We sought to create a clear understanding in our hosts that the association was open to them and the nature of the growing international membership within our association and Section.
- Comparing different legal traditions: To understand better the differences in legal systems and cultures and to learn from each other. In many ways, the legal world shares certain basic principles and structures, but, in practice, the different legal systems differ greatly. Our visits rely on a two-way dialogue in which all participants learn and contribute. This is absolutely essential for further collaboration.
- Professional connections: To create new relationships between entities and individuals. Getting acquainted with local colleagues and making contacts enables future collaborations. For our trip, such connections become the foundation for future legal exchanges and collaborations as opportunities continue to evolve and expand in Cuba and Ecuador.
Legal exchanges and collaborations within the Section can also be seen through its different City Chapters around the world. Different in many ways to ILEX trips, the City Chapter concept is a year-round structure open to all attorneys within a given city or geographic area with the purpose of making them familiar with the ABA while promoting the Section’s core values and activities.
City Chapters carry the ABA flag and act as informal ambassadors to local and regional legal communities. They provide flexible structures and serve as magnets to attract and foster action through conferences, networking events, and hosting visits of different ABA presidents and visiting ABA sections. City Chapters create a localized sense of “belonging” and, as such, translate more services and value to our members and their local legal communities.
This has proven very positive in terms of local yet global collaboration within the Section and within the larger ABA. Members in the different City Chapters can find colleagues who share the same principles and welcome the opportunity of working together on joint events, exchanges of information, and the sharing ideas and experiences—or simply lunch.
At present, there are eight ABA Section of International Law City Chapters around the world. If you would be interested in joining one or starting a new one in your city, contact our Section’s Membership Officer Marcos Ríos.
I hope that those reading this article will take the step forward and be able to enjoy the same experiences I have been fortunate to have.