Notes from Abroad: Five Months in Mexico and Colombia Promoting Pro Bono
When Cristina Quintero started as a first-year associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in 2008, she expected to spend the coming year working in corporate and securities law. Within six months, however, Simpson offered Quintero a unique opportunity: to leave the firm for a year and work as its sponsored fellow to the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice at the City Bar.
For the first five months of her tenure with the Vance Center, Quintero was sent to Bogota, Colombia, and to Mexico City, Mexico, to work on the Vance Center’s outreach and organizing efforts toward implementing pro bono programs in Latin America.
“Working abroad with the Vance Center was a rare opportunity,” said Quintero, “Not only to work toward its goals, but also to learn firsthand from lawyers in Latin America about the societies in which they practice law, the issues they confront every day and the challenges they face in attempting to provide meaningful access to justice.”
In 2008, the Vance Center launched an initiative with over 400 law firms, bar associations, law schools, and NGOs in Latin America and the U.S. strengthen pro bono programs across the continent. Attorneys and firms throughout the Americas endorsed the ‘Pro Bono Declaration of the Americas,’ pledging to undertake at least 20 hours of pro bono work per lawyer every year. Quintero’s work in Colombia and Mexico involved meeting with the signatory law firms, universities, non-governmental organizations, pro bono referral organizations and bar associations to assist in the further institutionalization of pro bono programs.
In Colombia, Quintero worked with the Fundacion Pro Bono Colombia, a new Colombia-based pro bono referral organization. Coordinating with Vance Center staff in New York, she helped the Fundacion create partnerships with other organizations and promote the concept of pro bono and legal social responsibility. She also met with partners and directors at Colombia’s largest law firms, providing information and materials – such as the Vance Center’s recently published Pro Bono Implementation Guide – to assist them as they established their pro bono programs.
While in Mexico, Quintero met with referral organizations such as the Barra Mexicana’s Asociacion de Servicios Legales, who refer pro bono cases to law firm lawyers. In addition to meeting with leading law firms, Quintero was a panelist at a seminar on public interest and strategic litigation hosted by Mexico’s Supreme Court and the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico’s largest public university.
“It was a real honor to share that space with such a diverse, talented group of people who promote and protect human rights in countries like Chile, Argentina, and Mexico,” said Quintero. “These are definitely lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my career.”
Going forward, the Vance Center will continue to work in Colombia and Mexico with a focus on assisting referral organizations and NGOs identify appropriate projects for law firms and solo practitioners in Latin America and the U.S. to undertake.