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WASHINGTON — Few in the D.C. legal community — or around the nation, for that matter — have ever heard of Checchi and Co., DPK Consulting or Chemonics. But these companies may help shape the laws of post-war Iraq. The firms occupy an obscure niche: Under the auspices of the U.S. government and paid by U.S. taxpayer dollars, they help troubled nations like Afghanistan or Kosovo improve their political institutions and systems of law. Now, as the government works toward the rebuilding of Iraq’s legal institutions after the war, these consulting firms are beginning to come forward — and they may soon become an integral part of the American effort to replace Saddam Hussein’s regime with something approaching a democracy. When the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) needs help in nation-building, these consulting firms — most of which are based in the D.C. area — send out their experts for lengthy stints on the ground, writing constitutions and administering courts. Some employees are lawyers by training. Others are political scientists, management specialists, or professional court administrators. The firms also hire people as needed in the nations in which they are working. “Our role is basically technical assistance. We’re implementers,” says Thomas Reynders, a consultant at Checchi, a D.C.-based company that has been helping nations build courts and constitutions for 50 years. “We do tell nations what sort of law they should have. We show them some models,” Reynders says. “But the law still has to be drafted by nationals of that country, adopted by their parliaments, and implemented by their institutions. You can’t just take the constitution of North Carolina, translate it, and drop it in.” Reynders says Checchi, a privately held company with revenue approaching $20 million, “would go after an Iraq contract” as long as it felt it could complete the work in what is bound to be a “difficult environment.” Checchi focuses primarily on law-related work and has already jumped into places such as Colombia and Kyrgyzstan, where it tackles projects like introducing oral trials with cross-examination or bringing about regulatory reform. Other firms such as D.C.-based Chemonics, with nearly 1,000 employees and revenue near $185 million, provide pretty much every type of assistance — legal, economic, trade, and infrastructure — that a developing or war-torn nation might need, again under USAID contracts. “We consider ourselves development specialists in the broadest sense,” says Heather Peck, Chemonics’ senior vice president for information services. “We expect that the Iraq work will be significant,” Peck adds. “We do expect to be involved in it at some point. We have developed the tools for legal and constitutional reform. We will be able to apply what we have learned in Kosovo,” where Chemonics has been helping to revitalize the private sector. William Davis, a founder of San Francisco-based DPK Consulting and former circuit executive for the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, says DPK looked at the recent USAID solicitation but did not bid since DPK was already stretched thin with legal work in other nations such as Bolivia and Macedonia. But Davis, whose firm has worked extensively on court administration in the West Bank and Gaza, does not rule out participating in Iraq at a later stage. Also on the playing field is BearingPoint, a McLean, Va.-based consulting behemoth that was known as KPMG Consulting until last October. BearingPoint just won a $40 million, three-year USAID contract, with a possible two-year extension, for the financial, legal, and regulatory reconstruction of Afghanistan. John Schneidewind, a BearingPoint spokesman, declines comment on possible Iraq work except to say his company “is well-prepared” for such an assignment and “could handle it.” The Fast Track So far, the USAID’s efforts in the legal sphere center on an 86-page solicitation that was put out on March 3, two weeks before President George W. Bush launched the war in Iraq. The document is couched in the bland technical language one would expect from a government agency seeking competing bids for a project. But underneath the bureaucratic language, this USAID document constitutes nothing less than a blueprint for the post-war reconstruction of the legal and political systems of Iraq. Neither the USAID nor specific companies will discuss the list of those who have bid for the contract, one of eight Iraq-related solicitations that the aid agency put out last month. The contract has not yet been awarded. It’s clear, however, that the USAID’s bid solicitation, formally known as the “Request for Proposal for the Iraq Sub-National Governance and Civic Institution Support Program,” has stirred considerable interest among a variety of possible bidders. Among them are members of the small fraternity of for-profit USAID contractors, such as Checchi and Chemonics. And some organizations are openly jockeying for work as subcontractors to whoever gets the USAID grant. “We are working with some companies that are in the process of bidding” on the USAID request for proposal, says Rubar Sandi, the president of the U.S.-Iraq Business Council, a nonprofit group founded last year to promote business in post-war Iraq. “We’d be the subcontractor, the Iraqi arm that provides the logistics on the ground. You need people at the street level to advise the police, to do criminal investigations, to run corrections, and so on.” Sandi, an expatriate Iraqi of Kurdish descent, declines to say which companies he is working with. He says he expects the USAID to award the contract within a week or so. Harry Edwards, a USAID public affairs officer, declines comment on when the award will be made. But the aid agency has already been working on a very fast track. The March 3 request for proposal closed on March 17, just two weeks after it opened. “This type of speed is not unheard of, but an RFP for something of this importance normally takes up to six months,” says William Goodrich, a partner at D.C.’s Arent Fox Kintner Plotkin & Kahn who has advised clients on USAID work. “This timing is an indication that there is some urgency, some public exigency here. The USAID has a very special challenge in trying to respond in a rational way, albeit at a very fast pace.” Goodrich says that in the world of USAID contracting, it’s very common for for-profit consulting firms to work closely with nonprofits such as the American Bar Association that have also carved out a niche in development work. “It’s an interdisciplinary pursuit, and it’s very unlikely that one contractor will have all the needed resources,” Goodrich says. “One bidder will probably need to bring together resources from the private and public sectors.” PARTNERSHIP To cite one striking example of public-private partnership, in 2001 Chemonics partnered with the National Judicial College in Reno in a USAID project designed to train thousands of Russian judges in law, ethics, and case management. Other forms of collaboration are possible as well. Carolyn Lamm, a partner at the D.C. office of White & Case with extensive experience representing foreign governments such as Uzbekistan and Indonesia, says law firms often come in as subcontractors to consultants like Checchi that may not have enough lawyers on staff with the required expertise. Law firms sometimes find the work undesirable, however, because many USAID contracts are awarded on a lump-sum basis. When the USAID does pay hourly rates, they are a small fraction of large-firm lawyers’ usual fees. Patricia McPhelim, vice president of Checchi, says her company collaborates not only with the National Judicial College and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, but also with individual federal and state judges who give advice or even travel to the developing country in their spare time, receiving no compensation beyond reimbursement of expenses. Experts in the field in both public and private sectors say that nations such as Iraq can become successful only if they can rebuild their legal systems. Linda Bidrossian, director of business development at DPK in San Francisco, says her firm started by providing technical and economic assistance but soon began working in the legal arena as well. “We believe that legal reform is critical to economic development,” Bidrossian says. “Before you can get started, you need the fundamentals of legal reform.” Jonathan Groner is editor at large at Legal Times, a Recorder affiliate in Washington, D.C.

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