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History and Highlights of the ILEX Program

By Edison Dick

The American Bar Association’s International Legal Exchange (ILEX) Program has been making a difference by educating practitioners, building partnerships, and advancing rule of law since its formation nearly half a century ago in 1968. The program began with a desire on the part of the ABA to provide on-the-job training for foreign legal trainees and, conversely, to provide similar training for U.S. lawyers in foreign countries. In that same year, the U.S. Department of State designated ILEX as a sponsoring organization under the U.S. Mutual Education and Cultural Act.

For the first ten years, the ILEX Program operated as a Standing Committee of the ABA with its offices in Washington, D.C., before becoming a program of the Section of International Law. Then-Section Chair Lyon Brinsmade led a key effort to strengthen and improve the operational and practical aspects of the program to position it for efficient, sustainable, and meaningful action. Since 1979, the Section has continued to support and grow the ILEX Program to facilitate a variety of individual and group legal exchanges in the United States and around the world.

Individual Placements

During that early period and even through today, the core program for ILEX has involved individual placements. Under this program, ILEX receives requests from foreign attorneys who seek to have a comparative training program with U.S. law firms or other U.S. law offices. The ILEX office, currently operated by the Section’s International Projects Director Christina Heid, processes the requests and locates appropriate host U.S. firms or offices.

ILEX originally was approved as a designated agency by the United States Information Agency for the purpose of certifying the eligibility of foreign visitors for exchange status in order to secure a J-1 exchange visitor visa. In recent years, the ILEX office has been successful in fulfilling requests from host U.S. law firms for the issuance of J-1 visas to their foreign trainees. Since 1999, the Section’s ILEX Program has assisted over 3,000 lawyers from more than 60 countries in obtaining a J-1 visa to participate in training programs with over 500 law firms, corporate legal departments, and non-governmental organizations. The duration of the ILEX training program is normally between 3 and 18 months.

ILEX also functioned as a placement and program agency for U.S. government-sponsored internships for foreign lawyers, but it currently is not authorized to issue J-1 visas for internships. When it facilitated internships, ILEX received funding from USIA for numerous placement programs for lawyers from developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. ILEX also arranged longer programs for foreign lawyers who visited the United States on programs sponsored by the United Nations, foreign governments, or the U.S. Department of State. ILEX still arranges such specialized programs and meetings.

Conversely, ILEX also processes requests from U.S. attorneys who desire to have a similar training program overseas or become temporarily affiliated with a foreign law firm or office. This enables the U.S. lawyer to broaden his/her experiences and to become more familiar with the legal system and practice of the host country or region. The ILEX office is normally responsible for arranging for the placement in the appropriate host office overseas. Most of these outbound placements have been in Western Europe.

Briefing Trips

ILEX is probably best known for briefing trips to countries and regions around the world. In the past 40 years, ILEX has conducted and/or sponsored more than 60 of these foreign travel group programs for Section and ABA members. These briefing trips are intended to provide participants with an in-depth learning experience with the legal and judicial systems of the host countries or regions. In most cases, these trips were organized in conjunction with the relevant geographic committees of the Section, as well as with other ABA Sections, Divisions, and Forums.

Regional, national, and local bar associations in the host countries normally provide significant assistance in planning meetings and programs. ILEX delegations have included both Section leaders and ABA high-level officers. Recently, members of the federal judiciary, including several U.S. Supreme Court justices, have been members of particular delegations.

The purpose of these trips is to provide the participants with an unparalleled opportunity to meet and have discussions with leading lawyers and government officials, as well as representatives of the business, economic, and financial communities of the countries visited. The programs are designed so that delegation members can gain insights and personal contacts that otherwise would be virtually impossible to achieve. It is hoped that they provide both interesting and professionally rewarding experiences. Furthermore, these trips have resulted in a number of excellent publications, including numerous monographs and learned treatises about doing business in the countries or regions visited.

A Look Back at 30 Years of ILEX Briefing Trips

Some of the most intriguing and memorable ILEX trips during the first 30 years are outlined here:

  • ILEX led two trips to South Africa, the first during apartheid (1982) and the second in the post-apartheid period (1995). It was fascinating for delegation members to see the development of the legal practice in South Africa following the dismantling of white rule and the emergence of black-owned and operated law firms. The delegation members, in cooperation with members of local law firms, prepared a useful “Lawyers Guide to Doing Business in South Africa.” Other monographs of subsequent briefing trips have also been published.
  • A timely trip to Brussels, Luxemburg, and London in 1989 focused on the European Community and Common Market Law. The meetings with business and governmental leaders in these common market countries paid particular attention to new opportunities and risks for U.S. businesses and financial institutions operating in Europe.
  • Visiting Bonn and Berlin (West and East Germany) in 1990 shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall focused on the legal ramifications of the unification of Germany and the end of the Cold War.
  • A trip to Singapore and Tokyo in 1991 studied the new Asian Capital Markets. The chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as other SEC leaders, participated in this program.
  • A briefing trip to the Persian Gulf countries, also in 1991, included a visit to a ravaged Kuwait City following the conclusion of the first Gulf War.
  • A remarkable ILEX-sponsored program in 1994 at the GATT Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, introduced U.S. lawyers to the newly established World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • A trip to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank in 1995 focused on the complicated process regarding Israel/Palestine peace negotiations.
  • A 1996 briefing program to Brussels and Luxembourg arranged by ILEX focused on comparative competition laws in the European Communities. The delegation explored major policy and legal issues, including mergers and acquisitions and cartel behavior.
  • A trip to Hanoi and Saigon in 1997 was the first visit by a legal delegation to these cities following the conclusion of the Vietnam War. The discussions focused on privatization of the Vietnam economy.
  • A 1999 visit to Ghana and the Cote d’Ivoire focused on trade issues in these important African countries. The delegation met with President of Ghana Jerry Rawlings at his country estate.
  • One of the most timely and important trips was in 2001 to Lebanon, Syria and Iran. The delegation was led by Martha Barnett, the second woman president of the ABA. The delegation met with Prime Minister Harari in Lebanon and other key leaders in the three countries in order to gain a better understanding of the issues related to securing peace in the Middle East.
  • In January of 2002, ILEX organized a targeted trip to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, focusing on the important but underappreciated specialized agencies and other UN entities that are primarily devoted to development and humanitarian issues. The delegation visited the UN High Commission for Refugees, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO—where 2006–2007 Section chair Deborah Enix-Ross used to work and who conducted the briefing), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • In both 2003 and 2005, ILEX, in conjunction with the Section’s UN Committee, sponsored a unique program in The Hague entitled “The World’s Courthouse.” This initiative examined and visited the large number of important international courts and tribunals headquartered in the interesting Dutch city and the reasons for their playing such an important role in the international legal system. The initial briefing for the delegation took place at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the ornate Peace Palace. The U.S. Justice on the Court, Thomas Buergenthal—a great friend of the Section—was the host and provided a fascinating lecture. The delegation also visited The Hague Conference on Private International Law; the Permanent Court of Arbitration; and the International Criminal Court, as well as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
  • In 1998 and 1999, ILEX conducted inbound briefing trips, providing foreign lawyers the opportunity to focus on the legal and economic framework for doing business in the United States, in New York City, and Washington, D.C. The New York segment included briefings at the New York Stock Exchange, the Federal Reserve Bank, the United Nations, and leading New York law firms. In Washington, D.C., the program featured visits to federal departments and agencies focusing on international affairs; trade offices, including the Office of the United States Trade Representative; Capitol Hill for a meeting with congressional members and key staffers; and the United States Supreme Court.

The ILEX Program continues to play an important role for the Section and for the ABA in an increasingly interdependent world. Click for more information about ILEX.

Edison Dick

Edison Dick is a lawyer in private practice with a focus on public international law and a recipient of the Section’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was executive director of the ABA’s International Legal Exchange (ILEX) Program 1979–2002.