Thursday, April 12, 2007

Exploring Some Argentinian Non-Profits

One of the most enjoyable parts of my time in Argentina has been the opportunity to meet with several people doing great advocacy work and see their offices. I´ve learned a lot about Argentinian politics and met some amazing people in the process.


My first time through BA, I met Nati Torres who works on access to information for an organization called Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity and Growth (

We talked about her efforts to bring a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)-like law to Argentina. Truly critical and heroic work given the history of government secrecy and corruption here (many of you know about the military coups and the ¨disappeared¨youth during the Dirty War). Nati also became a friend, gave me some great advice on seeing Patagonia, and introduced me to her other friends at a fun apartment-gathering. Here we are at her office:

Action Without Borders,

My longtime roommate from college, Dan, worked for many years with the U.S. office of Action Without Borders--which many of you know as, the leading nonprofit job search site. Well, since Dan started, the organization has grown in leaps and bounds and they now have offices in several other countries.

Dan set me up with the directors of the Buenos Aires office, Juan Cruz and Matias, and they are both great guys. In a visit to their office, Juan Cruz and I discussed politics and social change strategy. We focused on the power of networks (which is much of what AWB does; I told him about the Social Change Network), and the importance of using capitalist strategies to form sustainable nonprofits and reform the system. Juan Cruz said our discussion reminded him of kung-fu and the concept of using your opponent´s power against him. We decided we should write an article together called ¨The Kung Fu of Social Change,¨so hold your breath for that.

Matias joined us for lunch and later met me out for drinks with his new ¨novia¨(girlfriend) and one of her friends. Here I am with Juan Cruz at the office (unfortunately I forgot to snap a pic with Matias):

Asociacion por los Derechos Civiles (ADC)

Yale Law professor Owen Fiss set me up with Roberto Saba, the Executive Director of ADC who is also a law professor at University of Buenos Aires and University of Palermo. Roberto was at Yale in the early 1990s for an LLM and is on the verge of completing his JSD (any day now, in between running a large, successful NGO and teaching law...).

ADC ( works to defend civil rights and promote democratic values through lawsuits, lobbying, and institutional reform. They are currently focusing on access to information, subtle censorship (the way the government manipulates the press through allocating advertising dollars based upon reporting content), and improving the structure and transparency of the Supreme Court.

Here I am with Roberto at the ADC office:

Lawyers and law students read on; others risk imminent dire boredom...

Roberto was extremely generous with his limited time and I learned a ton from our fascinating discussion. We talked a lot about the structure of legal education and how different it is here from the U.S.

Since there is no generic undergrad studies here, law students enter a six-year program directly from high school. The University of Buenos Aires has the most prestigious law program, but there are no full-time faculty. Rather there are hundreds (or even thousands) of part time (adjunct) professors teaching 30,000 law students (that´s not a typo, the entire university has close to 300,000 students--and I thought U of Michigan was big). Roberto estimates that 4,000 new lawyers emerge in Buenos Aires alone each year.

The system stems from the fact that higher education is free in Argentina with open admissions. This means that anyone can study law.

It sounds great, and in many ways it is. It has provided the lower-middle and working classes with access to a middle class life. And, it provides lots of teaching opportunities to qualified lawyers, opportunities that are scarce in the U.S. This also ensures that those in the classroom have real-world experience.

But, Roberto was quick to point out the downsides. First, the quality of teaching is extremely varied and even at its best, not up to par with the U.S. With a full time job, he hardly has the time to prepare lessons with the same care as dedicated teachers do at Yale and other schools. And, it´s very difficult for Argentinian professors to keep up with all the literature in their fields and actually participate in pushing forward legal thought with creative thinking. They simply don´t have the greatest luxury that U.S. profs are swimming in--time.

Next, with professors in and out (they don´t even have offices) and with so many students, it´s hard for professors to be available for advice, personal relationships, etc. In addition, legal education is very much geared towards producing competent practitioners, not creative thinkers. There is no bar exam, so much of law school is like bar review. This is probably similar to some U.S. schools, but those of us lucky enough to go to Yale had much more opportunity to think creatively and challenge the status quo.

Finally, Roberto points out that the equality of the system is in many ways a veneer. Truly, there are two tiers of students. Tier 1 are those who can afford to only study. They can choose their courses and professors carefully, get good grades, and join a journal. Tier 2 are those who must work--often full time--while in school, taking only night classes or those that fit their job requirements.

In some ways it seems like the ideal system would be a merger of the U.S. and Argentinian extremes. I´m not sure that we need a class of people that sit around and think all day, filling the endless proliferation of law reviews with only occasionally relevant musings. At the same time, I think it´s clear that students are shortchanged when their profs don´t have adequate time to prepare for class or discuss the materials afterwards.

Perhaps an ideal system would offer excellent professionals 2-3 year fellowships which would allow them time off from the daily grind to teach and think. Students might actually benefit from instruction by more current practitioners. And the various fields of practice would likely benefit from the return of some star players who´ve had some time to reflect.

Oh, well...I promised uninformed opinions and self-indulgent musings. Anyway, here´s another benefit for those lawyers or law students who may have actually read this far. In case any of you doubted that Lexis and Westlaw are in an inter-galactic battle to control the universe, here´s some proof:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Story, i enjoyed sharing this.