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March 06, 2023

ABA Pilot Program Seeks to Qualify Afghan Legal Professionals as Lawyers in U.S.

Michael H. Byowitz, Dana Katz, and Harry Baumgarten

With the 2021 Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, judges, prosecutors, and lawyers have been persecuted, targeted, and forced to flee the country. Many of those remaining in Afghanistan are in grave danger for having assisted the United States and other outside entities prior to the government’s collapse. Legal professionals who are women face particular risk, and women judges have been assassinated for ruling against men, even before the Taliban regained control. Many have come to the United States after being driven from Afghanistan, leaving behind their homeland and families and losing their life savings and legal careers.

Faced with this challenge, the ABA ILS has formed the ABA Afghan Legal Professionals Scholarship & Mentoring Pilot Program (Pilot Program) to serve Afghan judges, prosecutors, and lawyers—especially women—who are seeking to practice law or work in law-related positions in the U.S. The Pilot Program was approved by the ABA Board of Governors in June 2022, and it is being administered by the all-volunteer ABA ILS Afghan Legal Professionals Resettlement Task Force (Task Force).

Pilot Program Structure

The Task Force has already secured thirteen to fifteen full-tuition scholarships from nine law schools, and many more law schools are likely to participate. But scholarships are only tuition waivers, and participants will need to support themselves (and, in some cases, their families) while they earn their LLM degrees and take the bar exam. The Pilot Program seeks to provide stipends to help cover the cost of their housing and other living expenses. In its first year, the Pilot Program seeks to serve up to ten and no more than twenty Afghan legal professionals who are already in the U.S.

The Pilot Program will provide mentors to help Afghan legal professionals apply for admission to LLM programs, answer questions during those programs, and address issues that may arise during bar exam preparation. The Task Force plans to arrange for bar review courses for Pilot Program participants, free of charge.

The Pilot Program will include preparatory mentoring for individuals not ready to pursue an LLM, and it will assist participants with finding employment. The Pilot Program plans to arrange for English proficiency assistance and testing.

Financial Assistance

Pilot Program participants cannot be enrolled without funding, and financial support ensures that participants can focus on their studies. The Pilot Program seeks contributions. For information on ABA recognition levels for contributions by law firms, corporations and individuals, go to: You can make a tax-deductible contribution online at


Before starting LLM programs, our Afghan colleagues need jobs. The Task Force urges law firms, corporations, and court systems to employ Afghan judges, prosecutors, and lawyers. Firms should consider hiring participants as paralegals, legal assistants, document reviewers, or translators until they become eligible to practice law in the US. Firms with an Islamic Finance practice or other legal practice involving Sharia law and customs, as well as those that require Dari or Pashto language expertise, may wish to engage participants as consultants. Law firms, corporations, and other organizations are encouraged to hire Afghan LLM graduates as lawyers, once they are qualified.

Program participants are highly motivated, educated, and experienced professionals, who will benefit firms in many ways, including civic and diversity initiatives. Participating law firms will receive public recognition through the ABA Fund for Justice and Education and other ABA communications. Most of all, firms will help our Afghan colleagues rebuild their professional lives and support the rule of law from within the U.S. legal system.

Volunteers Needed

The Pilot Program seeks volunteers to help in several ways:

  1. Refer participants to entities that provide pro bono immigration legal services (the provision of such legal services is outside the Pilot Program’s scope);
  2. Serve as mentors to help Afghan legal professionals (a) apply to LLM programs and guide participants throughout those programs, (b) answer questions regarding the bar exam, (c) seek employment within the U.S. legal system; and
  3. Raise funds to pay for housing and living expenses for Pilot Program participants.

Support from the U.S. legal community will help ensure that our brave and accomplished colleagues from Afghanistan will rebuild their legal careers in the United States.

For more information, please contact Task Force Chair Mike Byowitz ([email protected]), Task Force Vice Chair Dana Katz ([email protected]) or Task Force Member Harry Baumgarten ([email protected]).

    Michael H. Byowitz

    Of Counsel, Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz

    Michael H. Byowitz was a partner for more than 30 years and has been Of Counsel for the past six years (and counting) at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz in New York. Mike is active in the ABA currently serving as a Delegate At-Large in the ABA House of Delegates. He is a former member of the ABA Board of Governors and a Past Chair of the ABA International Law Section (ILS). He currently serves as Chair of the ABA ILS Afghan Legal Professionals Resettlement Task Force.

    Dana Katz

    Vice Chair, ABA ILS Afghan Legal Professionals Resettlement Task Force

    Dana Katz is the Vice Chair of the ABA ILS Afghan Legal Professionals Resettlement Task Force. She also serves as the Division Chair of the Legal Practice, Ethics, & Delivery of Legal Services Division of the ILS. Dana is Immediate Past Chair & Senior Advisor of the Women’s Interest Network (WIN) of the ILS.

    Harry William Baumgarten

    Vice President/General Counsel, Grundy Industrial Complex, Inc.

    Harry William Baumgarten is Vice President and General Counsel of the Grundy Industrial Complex, Inc. He previously served as Legislative Director and Counsel to Members of Congress, in which capacity he advised on foreign policy, rule of law, and international development. A graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, he is licensed to practice law in New York State, Washington, DC, the Supreme Court of the United States, and elsewhere.

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