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Gregory Gisvold stared with disbelief at the bright red signs strung across a cordoned-off hilltop outside Sarajevo. They warned of land mines — on the very spot where, just weeks earlier, he’d spent a rare day off from his job as a legal observer, sprawled out on a picnic blanket, blissfully ignorant of the danger lurking underneath. Though shaken by the memory, the 34-year-old wasn’t deterred from devoting two more years to adventurous humanitarian work in Kosovo, taking a leave of absence as an associate at Minneapolis’ Halleland Lewis Nilan Sipkins & Johnson. What is an ambitious young Midwest lawyer who defends HMOs and insurance companies doing in a place like this? Gisvold says his hopes of eventually making partner at his 40-lawyer firm can share emotional space with his devotion to helping to reform the Kosovar justice system: “When I went to law school, I said I was not going to be the sort of lawyer of my father’s generation and just sit there for 30 years.” As the child of community activists from Portland, Ore., perhaps Gisvold’s choices aren’t all that surprising — especially given that his five siblings (four adopted) represent a mix of five different ethnic groups, and the family hosted close to a dozen foreign exchange students while he was growing up. “We had a very intentional and aggressive effort at multiculturalism and multicultural education,” he says of his upbringing. “That contributed significantly to my interest in international work.” True to his interests, Gisvold spent his first year after graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School on a fellowship at Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, where, among other things, he was the only male in a delegation of about 20 Minnesotans who traveled to Beijing to attend the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in September 1995. But Gisvold had designs on a traditional legal career, too. So he spent the next year clerking at the Minnesota Supreme Court. Then, after a 10-week stint in Bosnia monitoring adherence to the Dayton Peace Agreement (and picnicking in minefields), he joined the state attorney general’s office, enforcing insurance and real estate regulations. In 1999 he took a job at Halleland, where he represents HMOs, insurance companies, and others not generally viewed as do-gooders. Until now, most of Gisvold’s human rights work has been done on his time off, either in between jobs or during a few weeks of amassed vacation. While at the AG’s office, for example, Gisvold took his vacation in Strasbourg to help out the Washington-based United States Institute of Peace coordinate a conference, and he gathered information for a book on protection of human rights in Bosnia that he co-edited. When he left his assistant attorney general job, Gisvold spent five weeks at the U.S. military base in Fort Dix, N.J., leading a team of lawyers gathering testimony from Kosovar refugees for an ABA-sponsored project there. And just a year and a half after starting at Halleland, Gisvold began planning his trip to Kosovo. Based in Pristina since November, Gisvold is now country director for the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI), an ABA-sponsored program that sends lawyers to Eastern European countries to help reform their legal professions, legal education, and justice systems. As supervisor of CEELI’s Kosovo and Montenegro offices and the ABA’s war crimes documentation project, Gisvold oversees five North American lawyers, one Montenegrin, and three Albanian attorneys, plus paralegals, translators, and office support staff. Not bad for a litigation associate whose human rights experience has been primarily garnered on his vacation time. “It is the biggest thing I have done to date,” says Gisvold, who’s not too shy to insist he’s well qualified. “I was selected for this position for my prior supervisory experience, my prior experience in the Balkans, and my areas of study.” Gisvold will earn about 20 percent less than he does at Halleland, but CEELI pays for room and board. Not a bad deal, given that “Kosovo is not a terribly expensive place to live,” says Gisvold. Even compared to Minneapolis. Gisvold has committed to two years with CEELI, but could stay longer. “My plan is to do this as long as it’s feasible, useful, and challenging, then return to my firm,” he says. The firm is saving a spot for him, although it has not decided whether Gisvold’s years in Kosovo will count toward partnership. But Halleland acknowledges that the experience should make him a better lawyer. “We’re looking to develop people who are leaders and problem solvers,” says firm president Matthew Damon. “The challenges Greg will face there will help him develop in those respects.” Plus, adds Damon, given the tight legal market, a midsize firm needs to be as flexible as possible to retain the best attorneys. If that means letting a young associate go off for a couple of years to reform a foreign justice system, well, then, this time at least, so be it.

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