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Lawyers itching to involve themselves in affairs of the world have new opportunity in New York City with the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice Initiatives, a fledgling operation with an ambitious agenda to span the globe in the cause of sustaining new democracies. Named for the late secretary of state, longtime partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and former president of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the Vance Center is part of the city Bar’s formal pro bono program. Although the center has been operating for only a few months, two major initiatives are in full swing: • Seven young black attorneys from South Africa arrived in New York in October to begin yearlong fellowships in American-style corporate law. During their time in Manhattan, they will receive stipends from six major law firms and four banking and investment houses participating. In addition, the Vance Center has scheduled a series of lectures and seminars for the fellows, run by faculty members of the New York University School of Law. The objective is to promote the expansion of the black commercial law bar in post-apartheid South Africa. • Together with the Inter-American Affairs Committee of the city Bar, the Vance Center has worked with law societies in Argentina and Chile to help institutionalize pro bono legal services in Latin America. This week, a delegation of 17 public interest and private lawyers led by city Bar President E. Leo Milonas, will head to the Chilean capital of Santiago for a three-day conference. According to Joan Vermeulen, a consultant to the city Bar who will become executive director of the Vance Center this month, future initiatives might well include reverse fellowships: young New York lawyers sent abroad to promote the Vance agenda, in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe. Two years ago, high-powered attorneys in New York began considering the city’s responsibility as a center of international law, and how they might create a vehicle for helping lawyers in emerging democratic states. In April of 2000, accordingly, Michael A. Cooper, a litigation partner at Sullivan & Cromwell who was then president of the city Bar, organized a two-day conference on international access to justice. Evan A. Davis, a partner at Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton who succeeded Cooper at the city Bar, said of the conference participants, “We just sort of stuck together.” Last year in Buenos Aires, at an international pro bono conference, the idea for the Vance Center was crystallized. New York attendees included Davis and Vermeulen, formerly the executive director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “We talked about ideas she [Vermeulen] had been thinking about, and my own interest in working with lawyers in South Africa to transform the legal system of that country from its apartheid past,” said Davis. “There are a number of countries undergoing transformation from military or authoritarian governments to democracy. The lawyers in those countries can play a big role in making that transition effective, and the lawyers here in New York can be supportive.” OFFICE INFRASTRUCTURE For Lerato Buhlebuyeza Mokgosi, support from New York means her intention to adapt much of the office infrastructure at Simpson Thacher to her South African firm — Madhlopa Attorneys Conveyancers of Johannesburg, where she is a corporate partner. “Where I come from, we don’t have such good systems for documents,” said Mokgosi, 27. “I am definitely taking that back home with me.” Following her stint at Simpson Thacher, Mokgosi will spend six months working with lawyers at JP Morgan Chase. The other law firms sponsoring South African fellows are Cleary Gottlieb; Weil, Gotshal & Manges; Shearman & Sterling; Clifford Chance; and Cravath, Swaine & Moore. The other investment house sponsors are Credit Suisse First Boston, Morgan Stanley & Co. and Salomon Smith Barney. “I am most impressed with the aggressiveness of litigation here,” said William Resenga Mokhari, 32, an “advocate,” as litigators are known in South Africa, for the Sandown Chambers of Johannesburg. As a Vance Center fellow, he is now working at Cravath Swaine. “We don’t have such a manner in South Africa. I find that [aggressiveness] gives me more confidence. The client can sit back and say, ‘Well, my case is in good hands.’ “New York is a truly cosmopolitan place, the embodiment of all sorts of different cultures,” he added. “I feel very much accommodated, I don’t feel like a foreigner here. When I go back home with this international exposure, my practice will be much more efficient and my clients will have more confidence in me.” For Masizakhe Mathai, 29, the world has grown bigger in a hurry as the result of his work at Cleary Gottlieb. He expects ever more broadening experience when he goes on to Salomon Smith Barney in April. “The magnitude of matters!” Mathai exclaimed. “We’re talking millions of dollars, and in certain instances billions. In South Africa, if we get something involving a million it’s a bonus kind of thing. We usually do relatively smaller matters. “I’ve been fortunate to spend quite a lot of time with a group of [Cleary Gottlieb] colleagues in a particular antitrust project,” said Mathai, an associate in the commercial and corporate law department of Werksmans Attorneys, a leading Johannesburg firm. “I’m seeing the real nuts and bolts of how they do things.” That kind of exposure is sorely needed among black corporate lawyers in South Africa, said Mathai. During the apartheid era, he said, commercial law was the strict preserve of white lawyers. Black attorneys — beginning with Nelson Mandela himself, who opened South Africa’s first black firm — had their hands full with political and human rights trials. But now in black-ruled South Africa, said Mathai, “We still have only about 5 percent of our black attorneys on the commercial and corporate side of things. The new generation of lawyers has to get involved in these new fields.” American lawyers who help the likes of Mathai and his South African colleagues, as well as struggling corporate lawyers in other parts of the world, may stand to see some bottom-line gain for their efforts. “Whenever lawyers spend time doing this, relationships result and those relationships can end up being helpful from a business point of view,” said S. Todd Crider, a partner at Simpson Thacher and a member of the Vance Center advisory board. “It’s not the primary objective. What we’re doing is contributing to international justice in some way. But there are always going to be some accompanying benefits.” Crider’s firm — which was home to Cyrus Vance from 1947 until his retirement in 1997, with time off for service in the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Carter — is the chief underwriter for the Vance Center’s preliminary operating budget of $110,000. Other contributions were made by David Rockefeller, the Ford Foundation, the Spingold Foundation and the Diamondston Foundation. Vermeulen said the “ideal” annual budget is projected at $250,000. The center staff would include herself, a project development professional and a support person. Executive committees at law firms throughout the city will soon be getting the call from Crider and others to likewise support the Vance Center. Those who doubt the benefits of dabbling in international justice matters for no immediately practical purpose might heed the words of Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law and a former litigation partner at Cravath. In his keynote address at the recent New York State Judicial Institute on Professionalism in the Law, Schwarz recounted a crucial career decision in his days as a young lawyer: “In the spring of 1961, during my clerkship with Judge [J. Edward] Lumbard [of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals], I faced a choice,” said Schwarz in his speech. “Should I proceed directly to Cravath, or should I spend a year helping the region of northern Nigeria organize its statutory law in the wake of the establishment of a new nation? “A number of distinguished and accomplished New York lawyers advised me … not to go. ‘You know,’ they told me, ‘If you go to Nigeria, you’re never going to become a real lawyer.’ “I did not think much of that advice. But to check my judgment, I decided to go across the hall to the chambers of Judge Learned Hand.” Schwarz recollected Hand’s brief and pithy response to the “real lawyer” argument: “Sounds like pure bullshit to me.”

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