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One morning in Moscow not long ago, Piret Loone boarded an Aeroflot jet bound for New York and a new life. When the plane took off, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was a global superpower. But when it landed at JFK, America’s adversary over nearly a half-century of “cold war” was on its way to being gone with the wind. “That was Aug. 19, 1991,” said Loone, 30, a third-year litigation associate at Shearman & Sterling. She called that time, when a peaceful and democratic coup began the anticlimactic end of the Soviet Union, “a date I will never forget.” She remembers the crush of klieg lights and television cameras that greeted her on arrival at JFK — American reporters seeking her out as one of the few English-speakers from the newly fallen Soviet Union. “How does it feel?” they wished to know. “It was very scary,” Loone told them. She and her father had traveled 800 miles by train from their home in Tartu, Estonia, to the Sheremetyevo airport. “My dad was still in Moscow. He’d put me on the plane. Now there are tanks in the street.” “The risks, all of them, were worth taking,” said Loone. “It cannot be overstated how horrible the [Soviet] system was.” Today, after 12 years in the U.S. during which she earned a master’s degree in international relations and political theory from Columbia University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, Loone speaks of quite another system. As a part-time pundit for Voice of America, her analyses of American legal news are heard regularly on VOA’s Estonian language feed. Her written reports are likewise read in the national press of her native land. “I talk about issues such as the affirmative action case involving the University of Michigan, or the detainees at Guantanamo,” said Loone. “Even though the broadcasts are sponsored by the American government, I give my own opinions, which is my right. “Now there’s the Massachusetts decision on gay marriage. I’ll probably talk about that next week,” she said. “I’ll talk about the [cultural] split in American society. And because Estonia is not a particularly religious country, I’ll have to explain how religion plays a strong role in American life, how some would make religion into law.” The overarching purpose of her broadcasts and newspaper columns, she explained, is to relate American issues to Estonia’s future as a democratic state, once more free of foreign domination. That begins with an exploration of the American legal system, warts included, for an audience steeped in stereotypes long served up by the Soviet propaganda ministry — litigiousness topping the list of caricatures. “I try to gently move them away from stereotypes,” said Loone. “I ask the question, What do you get from litigation? I explain that the courts have been a means of social change in this country, which they have not been in Estonia. “This country has such a huge role in the world. So many American [legal] issues become world issues,” she added. “So much of the world’s progress has had its impetus from legal developments in America — in civil rights and women’s rights, for instance.” As a girl in Estonia’s bad old days, Loone was encouraged to think of human rights. Her parents, professors at the University of Tartu, provided a home that welcomed banned books and foreign visitors. Her grandfather was a devoted listener of the VOA. Lucky for her as well, Tartu had “sister city” status with an American university town, Champaign-Urbana, Ill. At age 17, Piret Loone was sent abroad as an exchange student. “I felt like I was out of prison,” Loone recollected. Americans, she quickly discovered, were expressive and enjoyed the luxury of daily bathing. As she put it, “They’re loud, and they smell good. I completely fell in love with America.” So much so that she decided to make her life here. “I asked around about college and people said, You have to have a lot of money. Well, there I was — this Soviet girl, and the ruble was not convertible, so I had zero,” said Loone. “But they told me, ‘Well but there might be colleges that would help you.’” The trickiest part of her academic career was undergoing the requisite Scholastic Aptitude Test. In the Soviet Union, the only place an aspiring U.S.-bound student might take S.A.T. exams was the American Embassy in Moscow. Loone remembers waiting in a snowstorm outside the embassy gates with her father, as Soviet guards armed with Kalishnikov rifles fretted about their potential as political defectors. Her father managed to calm the guards, and Loone was soon on her way — to Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, and afterward, Columbia and Harvard. “I certainly have to thank my parents and my grandparents for inspiration,” said Loone. “They always wanted me to think critically about what I saw. They made me curious about the larger world.” Ultimately, Loone decided on a career in law over her parents’ calling to academe because “I wanted to do something that would have an impact on society, I didn’t want to be stuck in an ivory tower.” Jaculin Aaron, a litigation partner at Shearman, said Loone possesses curiosity and more. “She’s like other associates who were born abroad,” Aaron said of Loone. “She has a certain drive, a certain edge.” Loone’s family would agree. “My mother and I were talking just the other day,” said Loone. “She told me, ‘If I had told people that my daughter Piret would go to Harvard and become a New York lawyer, they would have thought I was crazy.’”

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