News and Information
November 24, 2008

Afghanistan Asked, and Virginia Answered

Virginia lawyers responded quickly and enthusiastically to a U.S. Army lawyer’s request for volunteers to help the new Afghan Bar Association advance the rule of law in Afghanistan.

Maj. Michael G. McGovern, who serves in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps in Bagram, Afghanistan, wrote in October to Virginia State Bar President Manuel A. Capsalis – a fellow George Mason University alumnus – to ask his help recruiting lawyers for the project.

The VSB put the word out to members in its November 1 E-News and posted a story about the need on its website.

In a November 20 e-mail to the VSB, McGovern reported on the result:

"The response from VSB attorneys has been overwhelmingly positive to date. Approximately forty-five attorneys have responded, and their backgrounds are extraordinarily diverse and rich in experience. … I was oftentimes simply amazed at how productive and professionally involved the majority of the respondents have been during the course of their careers."

"Four or five of these professionals mentioned that they could speak a bit of Dari or Pashtu. Some of them expressed a personal interest in this part of the world, others indicated that they had been to Afghanistan in either a personal or professional capacity and others were semi-retired and had spare time to donate to the project. Most are based in Virginia or [the District of Columbia], but other volunteers e-mailed from the West Coast and others still from Europe."

"In any event, these forty-five individuals could most probably govern a country quite well based on their collective experience."

"I have not responded to them as a group just yet. … I want to be able to provide them with some information of value. The [Afghan Bar Association (AfBA)] does not yet have the office equipment and tools (Internet or website) to communicate effectively with others outside of Afghanistan, or … outside the roaming area of their personal cell phone coverage."

"The U.S. Army has proposed an initiative to finance their basic office requirements (computers, telephones, Internet/website, etc.) under a program that supports projects that benefit the Afghan population. "Rule of Law" is one of the identified categories. In any event, the proposal is making its way through the funding process. The International Bar Association has provided a lawyer to help the AfBA establish itself in the Afghan professional community.…"

"The AfBA stood up as an independent professional organization at the end of July 2008. Our office includes an Afghan attorney who contacted the AfBA president. The point was merely to identify our office and to offer our assistance to the AfBA Executive Committee. That phone call led to a series of meetings…."

"It was clear that these individuals were motivated and dedicated to developing the AfBA as a positive force for good governance in this country. It was also clear that they were starting from scratch and might benefit from the experience of other professional attorneys."

"The VSB was an obvious choice to look for experienced attorneys with an interest in volunteering to assist the AfBA as it organizes itself and its programs and qualifies its members for legal practice in Afghanistan. The [AfBA] Executive Committee and … president have expressed a great interest in communicating with professional VSB attorneys as they grow their membership."

McGovern wrote to Capsalis on November 6, “My in-box keeps filling up with VSB attorneys who wish to assist in any capacity that they can – quite a load of talent you have in your organization! … In all honesty, I should not be the least bit surprised, given that the response is totally consistent with the generosity of the American public as a whole. This installation is filled with books, food, toiletries, and clothing items (socks) donated by the ordinary American citizen. Overwhelmingly generous when one thinks about it.”

McGovern, who also is a Virginia lawyer, is on a twelve-month tour with the 101st Airborne Division in eastern Afghanistan. His job description includes “rule of law coordinator,” and his office supports Afghan self-government.

Updated: Nov 24, 2008