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Welcome to the Vance Center eNotes, where you can read about our organization's latest news and developments.

April 2017

Vance Center Celebrates Launch of Uruguayan Pro Bono Clearinghouse

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Participants in the round table discussion 
Photo Credit:Press Department at the University of Montevideo

Uruguay’s first pro bono clearinghouse launched recently in a ceremony at the Universidad de Montevideo. Vance Center Executive Committee member and Shearman & Sterling partner Antonia Stolper, as well as Vance Center Director of Pro Bono Partnerships Leire Larracoechea, spoke in the two main sessions.

A roundtable discussion began the inaugural meeting, featuring leaders of Uruguay’s main law firms and highlighting the clearinghouse as a key mechanism to promoting pro bono work in Uruguay. After the roundtable, Stolper recounted the Vance Center’s contribution to the development of a pro bono culture in Latin America over the last 15 years and emphasized the benefits of a clearinghouse. As Stolper explained, clearinghouses have spearheaded the development of an efficient pro bono system in the Americas. They link clients in need with willing providers, reducing transactional costs of pro bono practice. Stolper also emphasized the social responsibility of the profession.

The participants then discussed the importance of structure, metrics, and efficiency in pro bono practice, to ensure the optimal deployment of resources. They included partners of Bergstein Abogados, Ferrere, Galante & Martins, Guyer & Regules, Hughes & Hughes, Jimenez de Arechaga Viana & Brause, Posadas, Posadas & Vecino, as well as representatives from civil society organizations, who touted the prospects of this new clearinghouse. As Guyer & Regules Senior Associate Beatriz Spiess said, “We are extremely enthusiastic about this project that we believe will have a very positive impact in Uruguay by helping to increase the culture and quality of pro bono work and to encourage the presentation of projects by society.”

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Leire Larracoechea's intervention during the pro bono seminar
Photo Credit:Press Department at the University of Montevideo

The meeting of the law firms ran parallel to a seminar at the university on pro bono practice and clearinghouses with students and law firm associates, which Larracoechea moderated. She related the status of pro bono work globally, as well as the economic and ethical benefits of pro bono practice and clearinghouses. Different representatives of leading clearinghouses in the region, members of the Pro Bono Network of the Americas, also participated in this seminar, describing pro bono practice in their jurisdictions and opining on applying these experiences to Uruguay while accounting for different cultural and societal contexts.

The event already has had a significant impact on Uruguayan pro bono practice, as Ferrere Partner Sandra Gonzalez explained: “The launching of the clearinghouse was the culmination of many months of work and, hopefully, the first step into a new era of pro bono work in Uruguay, with more local coordination and better access to justice. Local firms’ support was key, as was the involvement of the University of Montevideo. We thank especially the Vance Center, the Network and other regional clearinghouses for their invaluable help along the way and during the event.” 

Indeed, only one month after the event, five leading firms plan soon to sign the constitution papers for a foundation that will serve as the clearinghouse, as well as a collaboration agreement with the University of Montevideo. The collaboration is based on the university’s strong relationships with the various members of the legal profession, non-for-profit organizations, and the media across the country. The university also is integrating the ethical and social perspectives of the legal profession in its curriculum, which undoubtedly will encourage starting lawyers to join the pro bono movement. “We were proud to be chosen as one of the academic institutions that may contribute to develop the pro bono legal work in as well as from Uruguay. We are sure many of our young students will benefit from this initiative,” said Nicolas Etcheverry, Dean at the University’s Law School.

The Vance Center, as well as its fellow members in the Network, will continue to support the clearinghouse, the fourteenth in the region. Since their founding, these national clearinghouses have enabled leading law firms to provide pro bono legal advice to thousands of vulnerable people and communities, have established hundreds of non-profit entities, and influenced the development and modification of laws and public policies responding to social needs at both local and regional levels. 


Sullivan & Cromwell Hosts Panel Discussion with African Legal Fellows

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Inosi Nyatta, Partner at Sullivan & Cromwell, and the African Legal Fellows
Photo Credit: Brenda Kombo

Vance Center African Legal Fellows, Joba Akinola, Rosemary Maina, and Jabulile Ndweni spoke recently at a panel hosted by Sullivan & Cromwell . In opening remarks, Vance Center Committee member and Skadden partner Rossie Turman III described meeting a South African Legal Fellow when he was an associate at Skadden a dozen years ago. After meeting other Fellows, he became actively involved in recruiting, supervising, and mentoring Fellows. Turman marveled at how the 45 program alumni have gone on to take leadership roles in the South African legal profession.  

After Turman’s remarks, Vance Center Africa Sub-Committee Chair and Sullivan & Cromwell partner Inosi Nyatta introduced the panelists and posed questions. The Fellows discussed their personal histories, their experiences doing corporate work in New York, the pro bono landscape in their home countries and firms, and some of the trends in the legal markets.

Asked about what they have enjoyed about the Fellows program, the Fellows reflected on the relatively relaxed culture at their host firms, the exposure that the program has given them to complex transnational transactions, and the lessons they have learned about pro bono practice. Maina commented, “As a commercial lawyer, seeing how commercial firms do pro bono here in New York has been fantastic.”

Michael Cooper, Sullivan & Cromwell Counsel and a founder of the Fellows program, recounted working in 2002 with Evan Davis of Cleary Gottlieb and former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, then a member of the New York City Bar Association's Executive Committee, to pursue greater diversity and inclusion of lawyers of color in South Africa.  The Vance Center this year has expanded the program to Kenya and Nigeria. “It was a small acorn that is growing into a big oak and now is flowering,” Cooper remarked.

Akinola, Maina, and Ndweni over coming months will return to their home firms in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa where they will continue to work with the Vance Center on pro bono projects and other initiatives. The Vance Center and the South African Legal Fellows Network are currently recruiting Fellows for the next cycle.   


Vance Center Environment Program Promotes Water Conservation in Colombia 

 Rio Magdalena - Flickr -Joz3.69
The Magdalena River
Photo Credit:Flickr - username: Joz3.69

The Environment Program is supporting two international environmental organizations in their efforts to protect watersheds in Colombia. International Rivers, an organization dedicated to the protection of rivers and the rights of communities depending on them, wants to develop a legal framework for the permanent protection of designated rivers in Colombia. The project is focused on the Magdalena River, the most important waterway in Colombia and the fifth-largest river basin in South America. As the river flows from the Andes to the Caribbean, it sustains many diverse ecosystems, including forests, mountains, valleys, wetlands, and oceans. The Magdalena basin encompasses a population of 30 million people and supports 75 percent of the nation’s agriculture production and nearly 90 percent of its GDP. Although it represents an essential ecosystem for South America, the Magdalena River is directly under threat, with several hydropower dams planned in the coming decades. Along with dams built for irrigation, water supply, flood control, or other purposes, the expansion of hydropower dams is one of the biggest drivers of change to rivers in Colombia.

The Vance Center also is working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an organization dedicated to the protection of ecologically important lands and waters around the world. TNC has requested legal advice from the Vance Center regarding the creation of a water fund in Sierra Nevada, Colombia. The objective is a legal strategy that involves indigenous communities fulfilling the requirement of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC). TNC has developed water funds as part of its strategy to promote financial mechanisms for the conservation of biodiversity and the supply of drinking water to downstream communities in innovative ways. By attracting capital investments from large water users, such as aqueducts, hydroelectric companies, beverage companies, irrigation districts, and agricultural guilds, the TNC water funds support nature’s own ecosystem services and employs a conservation portfolio prepared with scientific tools to identify priority areas for intervention in watersheds.


Vance Center Salutes Client's Pulitzer Prize

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Members of the ICIJ team celebrate in the Washington D.C office
Photo Credit: Scilla Alecci

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for its Panama Papers investigation.  The Vance Center assisted ICIJ over the last nine months to establish itself as an independent nonprofit organization, as previously reported. The Vance Center congratulates ICIJ for this prize.