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Private law firms, led by D.C.-based Arent Fox, are joining with the State Department to help rebuild the legal system in Afghanistan. Last week at a State Department reception complete with hors d’oeuvres and sitar music, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unveiled the Public-Private Partnership for Justice Reform in Afghanistan. “Establishing a fair, democratic, and transparent judicial system in Afghanistan is essential to the country’s success,” Rice said at the Dec. 13 event. “And we know there is much work remaining to be done.” Currently, the State Department has raised $98 million from donor countries for judicial reform in Afghanistan, which suffers from a major lack of infrastructure and trained attorneys. “Every step along the way is broken or at least cracked, and we need to rebuild every step,” says J. Alexander Thier, a senior rule-of-law adviser at the United States Institute of Peace and an expert on the Afghan legal system. The effort will focus on four key areas: establishing an Afghan bar association, educating Afghan attorneys, establishing a legal aid system, and supporting Afghan women judges. Out of the 1,500 judges in Afghanistan, only 60 are women. The partnership also includes the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. Robert O’Brien, the managing partner of Arent Fox’s Los Angeles office, will chair the program along with Thomas Schweich, the U.S. coordinator for counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan. At the moment, only Arent Fox and the Law Offices of Donald Edgar in Santa Rosa, Calif., have contributed to the program. But O’Brien hopes to enlist more firms in the endeavor and to start bringing Afghan attorneys to the United States by next summer.
Attila Berry can be contacted at [email protected].

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