domingo, 13 de septiembre de 2009

Comisión Pro Bono y el Vance de NYC

Special Pro Bono Series II
Volume 1 – August 2009

Rocio Balestra

Argentine Foreign Associate Rocio Balestra
Discusses Her Pro Bono Work at Shearman & Sterling LLP

The Vance Center met with Ms. Rocio Balestra, an Argentine attorney practicing at Shearman &
Sterling, to discuss her experience as a Latin American Foreign Associate doing pro bono work at a New York law firm. In Argentina, Ms. Balestra is with the law firm Bruchou, Fernandez Madero and Lombardi. Shearman & Sterling is a signatory of the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas*.

Vance Center (VC): What motivated you to undertake a pro bono project at Shearman and
Ms. Balestra: I decided to work on pro bono cases at Shearman and Sterling for two reasons. Firstly, I am conscious that I, as a lawyer, have a duty and an opportunity to fill the justice gap by providing legal service. By improving the accessibility of justice for disadvantaged litigants, developing legal funding models, and working on projects and programs that will better address the legal needs of our society, we work to have a more just world. Secondly, I was eager to learn how pro bono work was structured in a top tier New York law firm like Shearman and Sterling. I thought that I could learn innovative pro bono standards and practices so as to implement them back in Argentina. Fortunately, Partner Antonia Stolper (New York-Capital Markets), a member of the S&S Pro Bono Committee, has actively encouraged me to fulfill my desire to work on pro bono matters.

Vance Center (VC): What types of cases were you working on?
Ms. Balestra: I have worked on both international and domestic pro bono cases. The international pro bono case was a rule of law project of Lawyers without Borders (LWOB), which is an international nongovernmental organization with offices in Canada, United States and United Kingdom. LWOB holds special consultative status at the United Nations and is accredited as a civil society organization by the Organization of American States. I have assisted LWOB in publishing its first text in the capacity building rule of law arena. The single bi-lingual 600 page volume is available for purchase on Search for "Electoral Project" under "Books".

Also, in 2009 I participated as judge for the “The International Rounds of the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition.” The Jessup Competition is widely considered the most long-standing, largest and most prestigious public international law moot court competition in the world. Participating in this year's competition were 568 teams from 80 countries, and the Shearman & Sterling International Rounds were attended by 120 teams from 76 countries. The domestic pro bono case was in the area of immigration case law. This case consisted of providing legal assistance in a petition for political asylum due to gender based prosecution.

VC: How did the cases come to your attention?
Ms. Balestra: I thought that LWOB project was a great opportunity to become involved in pro bono team of lawyers from around the world. Additionally, I believed that it would be really challenging to participate in the development of a guide for the practitioner who, with the goal of conducting free and fair elections in a single-party region, can be assisted by a step by step methodology to achieve that goal. I see the Electoral Project as a resource and tool for lawyers and legislators in a region where the transition from single to multi-party elections will occur. I support the Jessup Competition because I believe that the competition provides students around the world with a unique opportunity to develop their lawyering skills and expertise in public international law. As for the immigration case, it came from one of Shearman & Sterling’s closest and most
supportive pro bono affiliates, Immigration Equality. This case involved an asylum claim for a transgender individual from Mexico. A team of my colleagues at Shearman & Sterling had initially worked on this very intriguing and very sad case, and as this was a Spanish-speaking client, I decided to join in. Overall, the spirit of pro bono immigration work at the firm was very much present. In fact, immigration proceedings are a key feature of Shearman & Sterling’s pro bono practice, as they often collaborate with organizations like Immigration Equality to work on political asylum cases, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petitions,
Battered Spouse Waivers, and U-Visas.

VC: Can you tell us in general terms about the nature of the matters?
Ms. Balestra: The Electoral Project identifies obstacles in the current legal frameworks of a particular region that prevent free and fair elections and identifies the courses of action required to overcome them. The analysis is informed by internationally recognized electoral standards and integrates international norms and best practices as well as the unique history, custom and nuance of the region. Additionally, the roadmap proposes suggestions for repealing or amending existing law in order to pave the way for free elections. The Jessup Competition is administered by the International Law Students Association (ILSA). The goal of the Jessup is to promote international legal education, the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for the rule of law. In the Jessup Competition students are required to present oral and written arguments on a hypothetical international law problem to a simulated International Court of Justice. The 2009 Jessup problem addresses the power and the authority of the International Court of Justice.

As for our asylum case, it became very clear from an early point that our client had experienced severe persecution and brutality, on multiple levels in Mexico as a result of her gender identity. She had been raped in Mexico several times and, at least on one occasion, at knifepoint. It was also clear this persecution was emanating from our client’s private home life as well as her life in the public sphere. I thought that helping our client to attain legal status in the United States would be a concrete way to secure that she would not have to live in fear for her life. Although the case is still technically pending, I hope that our team’s efforts present a favorable result for our client. 

VC: Have you had contact with the client or referral organization?
Ms. Balestra: Yes, I have direct and fluid contact with the client. With respect to my collaboration on the collaboration on the Electoral Project, I remained in touch with two of our contacts at LWOB- namely, the Executive Director, Christina Storm, and the Project Manager, Bianca Capellini. Christina and her staff were extraordinarily supportive throughout the course of my work on the rule of law project- we really could not have asked for a better prepared and focused organization with whom to work.
As we wait to hear from immigration officials regarding our client's asylum petition, we will remain in contact with her throughout the course of representation.

VC: Have you encountered any difficulties? If so, how were they resolved?
Ms. Balestra: Especially in pro bono work, it can be quite daunting to figure out, even from a logistical standpoint, how to navigate these systems. With respect to our immigration client, it became quite obvious that the American immigration system is complex. This makes Shearman and Sterling's pro bono work in this area all that much more special; countless individuals would be left unrepresented in a system in which one can quickly become lost.

Thankfully, both Shearman and Immigration Equality had developed internal resources and
expertise to assist us. Moreover, given the level of institutionalization of pr bono at S&S – the firm has a full-time Pro Bono Counsel as well as a Pro Bono Coordinator – we lawyers are able to obtain as much
guidance and support as we require.

VC: Are you interested in doing pro bono work on behalf of the poor or marginalized when you return to your home country?

Ms. Balestra: Absolutely. Since the early stages of my career I have been participating in pro bono work in Argentina, particularly in the Province of Corrientes. I look forward to working pro bono upon my return to Argentina. I strongly believe that we should embrace the “IBA Pro Bono Declaration” and encourage other lawyers and law students to do pro bono work. Hopefully there will come a day when pro bono work will be a standard practice in Latin America.

VC: Can you identify some opportunities and challenges that you expect in this regard?

Ms. Balestra: The Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas was formally introduced in Argentina in 2008. Law firms, law schools, bar associations and NGOs there are building upon work that started there in 2001, in which the Vance Center was also involved. The main challenge is to spread and deepen pro bono culture in all of these institutions. The Declaration needs to be disseminated to as many law firms as possible inside and outside Buenos Aires and the bar association of each main city of Argentina need to be encouraged to
endorse the practice. Another important goal is to identify clients and NGOs who need pro bono services. I think that it is of key important to get to know and understand the legal needs of Argentinean citizens and develop effective mechanisms to address such problems.

VC: How might the Vance Center assist you in promoting pro bono when you return to your country?

Ms. Balestra: I believe that the Vance Center could be extremely helpful by working together with Latin Americans lawyers who have worked as foreign associates in New York developing of pro bono work standards. Vance Center role can be focused on promoting mechanisms to implement pro bono work at law firms and law schools and in sharing experiences and innovative practices across-borders.

VC: What advice do you have for lawyers in your home country who are interested in undertaking pro bono work there?

Ms. Balestra: I strongly recommend that they begin to reach out to others doing pro bono work and take a hands-on approach. There are many new opportunities for corporate lawyers and beyond the litigation field that allow them to use their legal knowledge and skills. Lawyers can also do legal and policy work or even work on large-scale international initiatives. I’d suggest that they not be hesitant to step outside of their specific areas of practice, because legal skills are transferable and our knowledge as lawyers can serve us in
navigating a range of issues that can have an important and positive impact on our community. Pro bono cases directly impact people's lives in a meaningful and lasting way. It can make more of a difference in the lives of many people in need. Over time it can make an enormous improvement on it will also help to strengthen access to justice in Argentina.

* * * * *
*Signed by more than 400 law firms, corporate legal departments, law schools, bar associations, NGOs and prominent lawyers throughout the Americas, the Pro Bono Declaration for the Americas provides a definition of pro bono and proposes a standard that lawyers can follow in fulfilling their ethical obligation to do pro bono work on behalf of the poor. The Declaration is the culmination of initiatives that have been developing in Latin America since 2001 and it is the first collaborative effort among private lawyers in the Americas to articulate a lawyer’s social legal responsibility.

To view the text and signing sheet, please go to:
To see a list of signatories, please go to:
For further information on the matters discussed in this interview or on the Vance Center’s work