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Ann Claire Williams On Advancing Rule Of Law In Africa

By Cara Bayles | October 28, 2018, 8:02 PM EDT

Retired Seventh Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams leads Jones Day’s effort to advance the rule of law in Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana. (Jones Day)


Ann Claire Williams pours years of experience into training lawyers and judges in African countries, and not just lessons from her time prosecuting crimes or weighing appellate cases on the Seventh Circuit. In some ways, her time as a Detroit public schools teacher has proven just as valuable.

"Teachers collaborate, teachers build teams, and teachers communicate," she said. "In order to stand up in front of a group of kids, you have to be a leader in some way."

Since 2000, Williams has been using those skills in a more sophisticated classroom setting, by visiting African countries and leading training sessions on case management, ethics, new laws and mediation.

Williams started down the path to that service by volunteering with the U.S. Agency for International Development. Later, she handled trainings for the criminal tribunal in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and began working with the U.S.-based nonprofit Lawyers Without Borders. She has also helped advance the rule of law at home through roles with the Federal Judicial Center and the Judicial Conference.

Now she's teamed up with Jones Day, working at the international firm full-time and leading its effort to advance the rule of law in Kenya, Tanzania, Liberia, Nigeria and Ghana.

Here, Williams talks of working by candlelight, why judicial opinions shouldn't read like mystery novels and the importance of having judges and lawyers discuss model behavior.

It might seem obvious, but can you talk a bit about why this work is important?

First we begin with the fact that a fifth of the world's population lives in Africa. It has the world's youngest population. It's a hotspot for innovation. There's an abundance of natural resources, and opportunities from a business standpoint and a human rights standpoint.

In order to be the kind of global player as a continent that Africa should be, you have to ensure the system of justice really works, that cases are resolved quickly and fairly.

You said you have judges and lawyers in the same room for some of these sessions. Does that open up frank dialogue they can't have in the courtroom?

Here in the United States, there's a lot of interaction between the judiciary and the bar over a variety of venues. In Africa, it's been a little more traditional. There hasn't been as much exchange, so bringing everybody in the same room makes a difference.

One of the sessions I always have is "what judges expect from lawyers." I have a panel of judges from in-country and maybe one or two U.S. or British judges, and they will share with lawyers what they think are best practices.

And then I flip it, and ask, "What do lawyers expect from judges?" I try to create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable actually sharing their views, because that's how you move forward. And it helps to move the rule of law forward when you have those kinds of relationships.

Have you continued using the same training model, learning by doing?

The third aspect of the training is what I call "training of trainers." For example, in Kenya, they had a new Sexual Offenses Act. We did substantive training on what the law is, what the charges are and how you bring those charges. We identified during that training the lawyers and judges who we thought would be great at training. Now, we invite back those who have participated, to train them to be trainers.

Ultimately, we want to be out of a job. It should really be the people in the country doing the training themselves.

How does this training improve access to justice in African countries?

In the courts, 90 percent of people who appear are unrepresented. And in criminal cases, often the only time the state pays for your representation is if it's a murder case. Otherwise, you have to hire your own counsel, and a lot of people can't afford that. But things vary. In Lagos, Nigeria, they have a robust public defenders office. They've opened a DNA lab there, and we've done handwriting, fingerprint, and ballistics training. But there are other places where legal aid is just beginning to take off.

In the U.S., it's really only been in the last 15 years that we've focused on electronic filing. In most of Africa, everything is done by paper. That creates backlog. There are many jurisdictions where the magistrates are the ones trying most of the cases while they're also taking the record by hand.

That sounds like a lot to try to tackle. Some of those are monetary issues.

They are. What you do is, you can explain how systems work in other countries, what the mechanisms are.

So, how do we encourage a pro bono culture? We talk about some of the practices we have here where we honor people who do pro bono work. That recognition in the community is important. They have continuing legal education, just like we do here. Well, can part of the CLE be pro bono work? You try to come up with creative ways to try to encourage that. One of the law schools in Kenya, Strathmore, requires students do 200 hours of pro bono work. That's growing a pro bono culture.

Another thing is encouraging the expansion of clinical training in law schools. If you look at the various innocence projects, and work on immigration and housing issues, law students in this country have been critical in moving those forward. So one of the things we're able to do, with the help of associates here, is write a manual on how you put together a law clinic.

My goal is to find things that are real-time solutions, to also look at aspirational goals, but think about what are things that can be done immediately, what will have the greatest impact. Jones Day provides me with the platform to do that, with the expertise it has across the firm.

Do you ever talk about instructive experiences you had as a lawyer and on the bench during these trainings?

Definitely. I took a writing class when I became an appellate judge, and I learned that it can be helpful to spell out what is actually going on in the case in the first paragraph or two, so people know whether they want to continue to read. We've talked in trainings about writing summaries at the beginning [of an order] rather than just going right for the procedural history and then eventually winding up with an opinion. Judicial writing is not a mystery novel. It should be clear where the opinion is going. I tell them how I learned that.

Prosecutors and attorneys general, they'll sit down with me to discuss challenges and ask, "Is there a way we can deal with this backlog?" So I can share with them I remember a time in the Northern District [of Illinois] where we were behind in terms of trying cases and the chief judge put together a committee and we found about 200 cases that were ready for trial, and these 10 judges said "I'm clearing my docket for a month" and just tried the cases back to back.

Or, for example, time limits. People are very gracious across the continent of Africa and very respectful of lawyers, and appellate arguments can go on for a half-day. When you say that in our court of appeals arguments go on for 10 minutes, it's hard for [African judges] to believe. So I've been getting the State Department to bring judges over to the U.S., and they get to observe our proceedings.

Is it at times difficult to negotiate your role, coming into another country from the U.S.?

It all has to do with your attitude when you go there. You make it clear that you're there to help, that you don't have ulterior motives, that you're there to share best practices.

I also think it's important to explain to them why I go. Under some of the most difficult circumstances, people there continue to get up every day in their march toward justice.

I was speaking with a magistrate about when she could do her opinion writing, because she's hearing testimony all day. And I said, "Is there any way you can go home and spend an hour a night?" And the magistrate said, "In the housing the judiciary provides me, there's no electricity. So, I would be doing this by candlelight." Then she said, "But I can go into work an hour early. There's electricity at the courthouse."

You have all these different people who know that equal justice matters, that rule of law matters, that it's the fundamental anchor of a free society. So I don't focus on how impoverished they are. I have to acknowledge and they have to tell me what they're challenges are, and then we think about what can we do that will advance the ball.

All Access is a series of discussions with leaders in the access to justice field. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Editing by Brian Baresch.

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