During the mid 1990s, attorney Christina M. Storm went looking for opportunities to do pro bono legal work abroad. Storm, a litigator who is a partner in Byrne & Storm in Hartford, Conn., had developed mediation skills that she figured could be put to use in other countries, but she had a hard time finding organizations doing international pro bono work with which she could volunteer. Frustrated with the lack of options, in 2000 she founded Lawyers Without Borders, an organization that connects attorneys with pro bono projects in Africa and elsewhere. The group now coordinates international projects geared toward protecting the integrity of the legal process abroad. The National Law Journal recently spoke with Storm about Lawyers Without Borders. Her responses have been edited for length.
NLJ: What kinds of projects are you doing right now?
CS: At any given time, we have one or more trial advocacy programs going on. We will train a combination of lawyers and judges, separately. We teach them the process of trying human trafficking cases, domestic violence cases or criminal cases. Frequently, they just don’t have the experience to deal with the nuance of those types of cases. For example, they might not know how to interrogate a child on the stand. We’ve done two of those in Kenya and one in Liberia, and we want to bring it to Ethiopia. One of the other things we do is court trial observations. I believe we are the only neutral, bound-to-confidentiality program operating. We don’t make our findings available to the press. We share the finding with the government [where the observation took place], with the agreement that we will go back to the country to train their lawyers and judges. We just finished a two-year trial observation in Ethiopia. We’re not there for the plaintiff or the defendant. We’re there to protect the integrity of the process.
NLJ: It sounds like you do a lot of work in Africa.
CS: When I founded Lawyers without Borders, a lot of the nongovernmental organizations [NGOs] were in Eastern Europe and had been there for quite some time….There were no NGOs working in Liberia. The word spread to Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Rwanda, Namibia and Ethiopia.
NLJ: How can attorneys get involved with Lawyers Without Borders?
CS: All types of lawyers are involved. Practice area is not a delineator for us. We try to be as inclusive as possible, as far as who can work with us. About half the projects are geared toward solo practitioners or attorneys who come to us as individuals. The other half are projects for groups from law firms. We have relationships with several of the larger law firms in the world, and we work with their pro bono counsel to develop programming and projects, and they assemble a team.
NLJ: How is the group funded?
CS: We are regular applicants to the U.S. Department of State and the World Bank, and other quasi-governmental funding mechanisms. Ninety-five percent of our funding is quasi-governmental, foundations or from the United Nations.…Lawyers in the field don’t get compensated for their time. They are donating their time.
NLJ: What kind of a time commitment is it for your volunteer attorneys?
CS: We’ve had lawyers do small, discrete tasks for us. If you’re a lawyer and you have time on your hands — whether you want to be at your desk or take a week of your vacation time and observe a trial, we have a high success rate of finding a project that fulfills your interests.
NLJ: Have you seen an increase in the number of attorneys who want to get involved since the economy went south? Presumably attorneys have more free time now that business has slowed.
CS: The economy has created a silver lining for NGOs. We’ve seen a surge of attorneys who want to volunteer their time. We’re seeing lawyers with a significant amount of time to participate in long-term projects abroad. There is a long list of lawyers, and deferred young lawyers, looking for opportunities.