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At age 54, after more than two decades practicing employment law, Linda McGill was restless. Like many middle-aged lawyers who have worked long hours year after year, the co-founder and director of Portland, Maine’s Moon, Moss, McGill & Shapiro craved a change of scenery. Wanting both a meaningful pro bono experience and a chance to live in another country with her 14-year-old daughter, McGill searched the Web for volunteer opportunities. Less than three months later, she traded her comfortable Portland office for the overcrowded facilities of the Socio-Legal Information Centre, an Indian public interest law network based in New Delhi. In addition to bonding with her new colleagues over curry lunches and frequent tea breaks, McGill spent her time advising the center’s clients on issues ranging from dowry payments to the trafficking of children, and managing the appeal of a major death penalty case. “When you’re in a foreign jurisdiction, it’s like you’re a student again,” McGill says, now back at her firm in Portland after her six-month unpaid sabbatical to India. “I came to really have a fresh appreciation for what it means to be a lawyer.” For this appreciation, McGill can thank Anthony Essaye, the 69-year-old co-founder of the International Senior Lawyers Project, a pro bono group that sends experienced attorneys — both practicing and retired — to do a range of legal work in developing countries. Essaye’s legal activism dates back to 1963, when he left his associate job at LeBoeuf, Lamb & Leiby (now LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae) to become one of five lawyers on staff at the newly formed Peace Corps. There, he eventually became deputy general counsel. Even after returning to private practice at Royall, Koegel & Rogers — which became Rogers & Wells and then Clifford Chance — Essaye’s public-mindedness never flagged. In his 36 years at the firm (20 running the D.C. office, two spent running the Paris office), Essaye found time to volunteer for several presidential campaigns, help form the National Lawyers Council of the Democratic National Committee, and organize the Clintons’ legal defense fund. Even as Essaye faced retirement, he longed for the “feelings of enterprise and adventure in starting a new organization.” So he began brainstorming with his friend Robert Kapp, a partner at Hogan & Hartson also nearing retirement. The two hatched the idea for ISLP at a lunch back in the fall of 1999. “It occurred to us that there might be lots of other senior lawyers who might be interested in doing international legal work on a pro bono basis,” says Essaye. He and Kapp recruited Richard Winfield, another retired Clifford Chance partner, to join them. After incorporating ISLP as a nonprofit in 2000, the trio commissioned a study by Barbara Swann, a lawyer who had volunteered with Winfield years before at what is now the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative. At a cost of roughly $100,000 — covered by the Open Society Institute, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trusts — Swann met with public interest lawyers and nongovernmental organizations abroad, and then surveyed senior U.S. lawyers about their interest in volunteering. Swann’s report affirmed that legal assistance was widely needed throughout the developing world — and that a growing pool of senior attorneys would be able to provide help. With office space donated by Clifford Chance and Hogan & Hartson, Essaye and Kapp began recruiting senior lawyers and mining for volunteer opportunities. Rather than creating projects from scratch, the founders decided to partner with existing organizations that were in need of legal services. Working with groups such as Ashoka, the nonprofit group that had provided funding for India’s Socio-Legal Information Centre, and the Open Society Institute, the co-presidents began matching ISLP volunteers with projects in their areas of expertise. Now with a staff of two employees, not counting Essaye and Kapp, both of whom work as volunteer co-presidents, 23 board members, and an annual budget of roughly $200,000, the organization has already sent 15 senior lawyers abroad to countries including Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Macedonia, and Turkey. Staying anywhere from a few weeks to more than six months, ISLP lawyers take on the organization’s sweepingly ambitious mission statement: “To advance democracy and the rule of law, to protect human rights and promote equitable economic development.” Dozens more lawyers have volunteered from the United States, offering long-distance support to on-site ISLP lawyers and performing a broad range of services. Indeed, recruiting skilled volunteers has been the easy part so far. “The struggle has been on the fund-raising front,” says Kapp, who, still with Hogan & Hartson, now devotes about a third of his time to ISLP, along with one other human rights organization. (Essaye works for ISLP full-time.) Even with grants from foundations such as the Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, and the Mariah Fund, support from law firms including Clifford Chance, Hogan & Hartson, Latham & Watkins, Jones Day, Covington & Burling, Piper Rudnick, and Baach Robinson & Lewis, as well as donations from board members, Essaye says the continuous underlying challenge is “to raise enough money to have at least a small staff and the overhead we need.” But down on the front lines of ISLP, the organization is running smoothly. So says Robert Kinney, a 56-year-old public defender in Las Cruces, New Mexico, who recently returned from a two-month project in Bulgaria. Kinney’s project — establishing Bulgaria’s first public defender office — was first launched by the Open Society Institute as part of a larger initiative to open public defender offices throughout Eastern Europe. When the institute contacted ISLP looking for a volunteer, Kinney was recommended to Essaye by another ISLP volunteer. A MONUMENTAL TASK Arriving in the central Bulgarian town of Veliko Târnovo, where the Open Society Institute had already rented office space and hired staff lawyers, Kinney faced a monumental task. Twelve years after Bulgaria had declared its independence from Soviet domination and adopted a constitution offering broad protection to criminal defendants, Kinney says, the country’s criminal defense practices were still scarcely better than they had been under Communist rule. Criminal defendants would frequently not meet their court-appointed attorneys until the day of their trials and often underwent the experience with no documents filed in their defense and no investigation performed on their behalf. “We were creating an entirely new approach to criminal law,” he says. Indeed, Kinney’s eight weeks in Bulgaria involved near-constant work. Aside from creating databases to record the office’s case work — important because the Open Society Institute hopes the state will eventually fund the office — he trained the office’s staff lawyers, most of them young and relatively inexperienced litigators. “In the first week I was there,” Kinney says, “we instituted a policy where each lawyer was required to see their client at least once before the hearing.” Unlike the steady influx of immigration cases Kinney sees in New Mexico, his clients at the Veliko Târnovo office — at least half of whom were members of the Roma minority — were most often facing theft charges, drug charges, and other offenses that state courts would handle in the United States. “What was especially rewarding to me was seeing real changes happen,” says Kinney. “We had a number of cases that were absolutely dismissible when the lawyer actually challenged them,” he says, recalling a case in which a young man was falsely accused of homicide. Leaving near the end of July, Kinney had created a self-sufficient operation. Now back in New Mexico and steeped again in his own work, Kinney has stayed in touch with many lawyers at the Veliko Târnovo office, and is planning a follow-up trip at the end of the winter. Project staffers in the District and New York, meanwhile, are developing new programs. Essaye is coordinating a project in South Africa to train young black lawyers in commercial law. Also in the works is a project with the Ethical Global Initiative, in which ISLP lawyers will help developing countries gain access to generic prescription drugs. Answering his own phones, sending his own e-mails, and working out of borrowed office space, Essaye has neither the cushiness of law firm partnerdom nor the romance of ISLP field work. But to him, few things are more exciting than manning an international organization from the home front. Recalling a stroll he took through Lafayette Park during his Peace Corps days in the ’60s, Essaye remembers looking at the park’s statues of European military heroes in the American Revolution, and thinking about the countries all over the world that were still striving for independence. “I have the same sense today that there’s just an enormous need throughout the world,” he says, “as countries are struggling to establish and maintain the rule of law.” Four decades after his Peace Corps service, the quiet revolutionary has brought his career full circle. Jennifer Fried is assistant editor at The American Lawyer, where this article first appeared in the November issue.

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