State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Skill-based Volunteerism by Lawyers in Haiti

The Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Center on Globalization and Sustainable Development launched its Spring 2014 Haiti Dialogue Series with a discussion on pro-bono work in Haiti, featuring three distinguished lawyers. The speakers explained the opportunities and challenges of skill-based volunteerism in the context of Haiti’s development strategies and institutional capacity building within the justice system. They shared a range of experiences — from the challenges of pairing specific program needs in Haiti with available pro-bono legal expertise, to the divergence of theory and practice of applying global conventions on human rights and disability in the context of Haitian law and development needs.

Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste
Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste

Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste, the program director for the Human Rights and Access to Justice Program at the Vance Center for International Justice, shared her experience creating and managing more than  20 pro-bono projects in Haiti. She explained how the center responds to requests from a variety of civil society groups and non-profit agencies in Haiti to establish links with major law firms willing to provide pro-bono legal support. The Vance Center provides support by designing effective partnerships to match local needs with the expertise of renowned pro-bono law firm programs.

Eric Ordway
Eric Ordway

Then Eric Ordway, a litigation partner in the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges’s International Arbitration group, shared his expertise, which ranged from helping write international legal frameworks such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to providing pro-bono legal advice to numerous countries improve the legal rights of the elderly. Ordway explained that pro-bono projects are not decided on a fixed set of criteria. Instead, the range of expertise at the law firm allows them to pair new projects with eager associates who demonstrate skill sets that match the potential project’s needs. This was how the project in Haiti began with the support of the Vance Center.

David Griffiths
David Griffiths

David Griffiths, a senior associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges’s International Arbitration group, shared his insights and experiences conducting trainings in Haiti with Haitian judges and lawyers. He shared his perspective on the realities of working in Haiti and the divergence from theory to practice. The objective of his work was to help enhance the Haitian legal authorities’ understanding of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Organization of American States’ draft Inter-American Convention on Protection of the Human Rights of Older Persons. After successfully conducting an initial training, Griffiths is now assessing how to support further outreach with judges and how to reinforce their effort to institutionalize these codes in Haitian legal practices. Some of the challenges he faced included the judges’ basic awareness of specific needs of persons with disabilities to further clarity on the existing Haitian laws as compared to global conventions.

The conversation ended with a discussion on how to continue to enhance skill-based volunteerism in a strategic way in places like Haiti.  Pairing experts and volunteers with specific related requests is more effective when organizations like the Vance Center help facilitate those links and pairings. The role of a facilitating organization also helps ensure long-term follow-up and replication of similar work, a critical component to overall success.


The Haiti Dialogue Series, launched in 2013, brings together Haitian policy makers, private sector entrepreneurs, scholars and practitioners with Columbia University’s Haiti Research and Policy Program researcher team and graduate students. The goals of these events are to reflect on the challenges and opportunities for national development strategies. These small-group discussions provide a forum to critically analyze prevailing assumptions and explore the intricacies of effective planning and implementation. The series has evolved from initial discussions on foreign aid effectiveness to critical analysis of the Haitian government’s strategic development plan, to perspectives on the role and opportunity for private sector investment. For information, visit our Haiti Dialogue Series website.


Columbia campus skyline with text Columbia Climate School Class Day 2024 - Congratulations Graduates

Congratulations to our Columbia Climate School MA in Climate & Society Class of 2024! Learn about our May 10 Class Day celebration. #ColumbiaClimate2024

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments