A career of giving back

William Loris
William Loris
April 2013
Print friendly page

By Dustin J. Seibert

Becoming a lawyer was virtually a birthright for William Loris.

His father, Thomas Loris, was a first-generation, Greek-American attorney in Sacramento, Calif., known for being one of the first of his ethnic background admitted to the state bar.

Listening to his father's many stories about the law and witnessing firsthand the high esteem the community had for him, the younger Loris said he never questioned going to law school.

He and his sister, Deborah — two of their parents' five children — eventually became lawyers.

"It seemed that it was really our destiny," Loris said.

The father's and son's paths diverged, however, when the younger Loris decided to eschew his expected route of joining his father's one-man firm and follow a road that ultimately led to him becoming a pioneer in establishing the rule of law in countries around the world.

Loris, the founder of Loyola University Chicago School of Law's Rome-based PROLAW LL.M. program — which trains legal professionals on becoming rule-of-law advisers for countries that are economically developing or experiencing violent conflict — never professionally pleased his late father.

But his trade-off has allowed countless people around the globe to benefit from a more balanced and complete legal system than they were accustomed to.

And that's just fine by him.

The planted seeds

Loris started down the track his father put him on when he attended the then-named Santa Clara Jesuit University in the 1960s, majoring in history and philosophy with the intention to head to law school upon graduation. For his third year, he was accepted to study abroad in Rome through Loyola University.

William Loris
William Loris

Studying overseas whet his appetite for a future international career, but it was his budding relationship with Lynne Jackson that served as a tipping point. Jackson — the daughter of Roy Jackson, director of the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization's fisheries department — had been living in Rome since she was 13.

In 1966, Loris visited his then-future wife's home in Rome during a reception her father held for several of his U.N. co-workers. That evening piqued his interest in the work of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development — the promotion of policies designed to improve the economic and social well-being of people in developing countries.

"I asked him why he had all these different kinds of people here," Loris said. "He told me that this is what economic development looks like. I decided almost on the spot that it's what I wanted to do with my life."

When he returned to California to tell his father that he was interested in using his future law degree to pursue development instead of a traditional legal practice, his father wasn't happy.

"He told me that once I get into law school and see the legal world, I would probably lose interest," Loris said. "But I never did."

After completing his undergraduate degree in 1968 and taking a year off for military service, he graduated from Santa Clara's law school. However, Loris knew that in order to get properly involved in the field of development, he'd have to follow his father-in-law's advice and augment his legal skills with technical ones.

So he enrolled in a one-year program in international and comparative law at Vrije University in Brussels. After finishing, he returned home, passed the California bar in 1973 and got his first job with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government's primary foreign aid agency.

As one of three lawyers in the agency's internship program, Loris was sent to an office in Abidjan, then the capital city of Ivory Coast. He served in the Regional Economic Development Service Office, supporting west and central African countries, including Mali and Senegal.

As a member of a multidisciplinary project team, Loris participated in talks on the legal developments, negotiations and agreements regarding several issues in those countries, including livestock management, infrastructure and health projects. He stayed in the position for five years, becoming fluent in French in the process.

"I was young, and it was a fabulous job," he said.

At the end of 1978, Loris, his wife and their 1-year-old son, David, moved to Cairo, Egypt, after USAID promoted him from intern to legal officer.

Loris' work in Cairo was similar to what he did in the Ivory Coast, only on a much larger scale. President Jimmy Carter had recently overseen the signing of the Camp David Accords — frameworks for peace treaties between Egypt and Israel — meaning that the U.S. would provide equal economic and military assistance to Israel and Egypt. The U.S. became the largest source of revenue for Egypt, donating $1 billion every year to the developing country.

"It was imperative that we were able to conceive and execute new projects or add-ons to older projects with the Egyptian government every year with that money," Loris said.

Those projects included irrigation projects and removing mines placed in the Suez Canal after the 1973 October War.

"It was a tremendous experience, in terms of my own personal development," Loris said. "By the time I was halfway through the Cairo experience, I'd seen almost every type of project and problem and I began to develop a sense of what worked and didn't work in the aid and development process, as well as some idea of why some countries were poor and some weren't."

Fate near a dam

Though Loris' development career was in full swing by the beginning of the 1980s, it was a fateful fishing trip that helped plant the seeds for the next big step.

In 1981, he and his boss, Michael Hager, took a boat to capitalize on the good fishing near a dam off the Nile River. Casual conversation turned into ruminations of "what will we do next with our careers?"

"One of the problems both of us could see was that the countries we worked in had weak legal systems," Loris said. "They didn't really have the rule of law."

They both decided they wanted to leave USAID to set up a foundation that would provide training and technical assistance to developing countries, ultimately establishing the rule of law and all the benefits that came from it. This included the development of a framework for trade and investment and ensuring that those countries had trained lawyers who could adequately negotiate deals.

"A lot of times when (the U.S. government) negotiated these deals, we were clearly in a dominant position," Loris said. "Someone trained us on this and a lot of the countries we dealt with didn't have that advantage — they were not on equal footing — so we thought we should do something to put the balance right."

Loris and Hager drew up a proposal and disseminated it around the world to associates, former co-workers and parties with similar interests. They attracted a French attorney, Gilles Blanchi, who agreed to work full-time with Loris and Hager to get the program going.

Influential people expressed interest in and responded to the proposal — including the late Ibrahim Shihata, a world-renowned expert on international development who, at the time, was director general for the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, Austria, and later served as counsel to the World Bank for 15 years.

Shihata apparently already had a similar idea as Hager and Loris, so he flew Hager to Vienna to discuss how they could get it off the ground.

"The condition he gave was that we couldn't represent just one legal system," Loris said. "The program had to be international in character and staff."

Once Shihata used his influence to get donors for the program, Loris, Hager and Blanchi moved to Rome in 1983 to conduct a feasibility study. As Italy donated the most money, the headquarters were established in Rome and christened the International Development Law Institute — with a mission of promoting the rule of law in developing countries through training and technical assistance.

"We always thought that the best development job would be done by people actually in the country," he said.

Growth and recognition

After five years, the institute had a staff of 50 and was growing consistently, allowing it to impact more countries. For Loris, that simple growth wasn't good enough.

"We wanted it to have the status of a United Nations organization from a legal standpoint," Loris said. "We managed to convince several countries that this was the right thing to do."

Loris and company got about 30 countries to sign on to re-create the institute via a convention; it was renamed International Development Law Organization, or IDLO, and ratified in 1991, no longer a nonprofit, nongovernment organization.

"That sort of ramped up the influence of the organization," Loris said. "For us, it was kind of like living a dream, because we always thought it should be a big deal."

Loris essentially conceived, designed and managed IDLO's training program. His work sent him to more than 100 countries to work on numerous varied types of projects, ranging from establishing the rule of law in post-communist central European countries to providing aid to Indonesia, which was rocked by natural calamities several times in the early 2000s.

"If there was a tsunami in Indonesia, there was a job for us to do," he said. "It created a wave of legal problems (for the country) — property destroyed, records destroyed, the courthouse gone. If something like that happens, we wake up in the morning and it's our business … what are we gonna do about it?"

Among Loris' more memorable experiences with IDLO was their work in Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, at which point he served as the organization's elected director general.

The country's perpetual state of strife led to the erosion of the legal system in the region and his work there went a long way toward helping him understand how laws benefit development — and how lack of the law breeds poverty.

"People think the Afghans don't have a legal system, but they have strong legal traditions that just haven't been always followed throughout the country," he said. "For almost 30 years there has been war, and no one had copies of the laws, so we sent people looking for them."

IDLO found several law documents in a shattered ministry building in Kabul. The laws were sent to Rome, copied and transcribed onto CDs and sent back to Kabul to reconstruct Afghan law.

"We started training the 2,500 judges in the country on their own law," Loris said. "But no one could tell if some of this was still law or not. Most of them didn't have a proper legal education."

The metrics of IDLO's success in establishing the rule of law in any country, Loris said, were based on a number of varying factors, including established legal codes that judges could learn and apply, prisoners receiving due process and proper methodology for selecting judges.

"By all those standards, the Afghanistan story is a huge success," he said. "Many other organizations came in to help and the country benefited from huge support from the international community in rebuilding the legal system."

The move to PROLAW

Loyola University's president, the Rev. Michael Garanzini, met Loris for the first time in 2008 when both attended a university alumni event in Rome.

Loris said that Garanzini expressed interest in IDLO and wanted to visit the office. Several months later, Garanzini asked Loris if he'd be interested in using his expertise to establish a program for Loyola in Rome.

"I was never into academia, so I'd never thought about it before," Loris said. "But I was at the end of my elected term and I said I'd think about it, so he asked me to write up a proposal."

The university accepted Loris' proposal, which suggested a degree program geared toward teaching students who are already attorneys from developing countries to establish legal reform in their home countries. He developed the program from the ground up; September 2011 marked PROLAW's inaugural term.

The one-year LL.M. program consists of 27 academic credits and is designed to allow its graduates to perform numerous rule-of-law tasks, including judicial reform, civil law reform, gender equality and legal empowerment of the disenfranchised.

"The goal is to pass on the knowledge we've accumulated since the 1980s," he said. "We needed people who will be doing the job over a long period of time. When taxpayers want to resist shelling out for what at times seems like an obscure idea, people in those countries ought to be vigorously working on their own improvement programs."

The program has seen a number of benefactors, big and small, provide scholarship money to students — including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One benefactor is Barry McCabe, who met Loris in Rome during his travels as a member of the Loyola Board of Trustees.

The retired lawyer and real estate investor has provided stipends for students who can afford tuition but not room and board; he also recently started an endowment with Garanzini, having raised more than $1 million so far.

"I've listened to the stories of what they are up against and hear how excited they are to get back to their own countries and build constitutional governments," McCabe said. "That we can be a part of that is exciting."

McCabe is also part of a small advisory board tasked with building financial support for PROLAW — developing ideas and contacts that will raise money and add to the endowment and other aspects of the program.

Also part of that committee is Joseph Power Jr. of Power, Rogers & Smith. He has served on the board for two years.

"We have fundamental rights here in the U.S. and we strive to improve them the best we can, so we should work to introduce our legal system to other countries," Power said.

"It's important that we meet people face-to-face and realize that we have similar goals no matter where we come from."

Seeing himself in the students

The PROLAW program seeks to enroll, on average, 25 students per term. Because the program caters to law professionals in developing countries, only four students from the United States have been enrolled in each of the program's two terms to date.

The current PROLAW class has students from many countries known for being developing nations, including Iraq, Uganda and Mexico.

Loris said that he sees a lot of his own personality characteristics in the students.

"When they read the course description, there's something that inspires them to do good for their countries," he said. "All of them have legal training — some are working for government, some for nonprofits in their countries, but all of them have a passion like I did when I left law school.

"There is a sort of idealism in the small number of people in the legal profession that can step aside from conventional practice and focus on the promotion of the rule of law and organization of the legal system. A lot of them are disturbed about the lack of respect for human and economic rights in their country and they want to do something about it."

Nigel Gayle is a Jamaican attorney who works for the attorney general's chambers in the Ministry of Justice in Kingston. He signed up for PROLAW's 2013 class at the suggestion of his superiors; he is currently on paid leave.

Gayle hopes to use his skills from the PROLAW program to play an instrumental role in reforming Jamaica's legal system.

"As an attorney, we tend to think in a box regarding the law," he said. "This was an opportunity for me to think outside of that box and equip myself with a new skill in case I decide I get tired of litigation later and branch off into diplomacy or other development."

Gayle said that he wants to incorporate Loris' style of teaching when he returns home to his position as a part-time law lecturer at the University of the West Indies. Gayle draws upon Loris' expertise for everything from classwork to his thesis topic: "What drives effective legal aid?"

"A lot of these professors are not very accessible outside of a specific, limited, designated times," Gayle said. "He has an open door policy."

New York native and Loyola University Maryland alumna Alison Rende came across the PROLAW program while looking for pro bono legal opportunities. She said it was the global expertise of the faculty and the unique curriculum that attracted her to it.

"The program not only trains lawyers in how to advise on rule of law and development, but also sensitizes them to the historical and cultural contexts in which such initiatives are implemented," she said. "Plus, Rome is a beautiful city and the home of many international development organizations."

Though Rende's 10-year legal career has already been rich so far — she's worked as counsel for IBM Corp., for private firms and currently serves on the board of directors at The Resource Foundation, a nonprofit that helps donors support locally driven development programs in Latin America and the Caribbean — she said the PROLAW program is another tool to make her a well-rounded attorney.

"The rule of law is at the top of the global development agenda and PROLAW offers an opportunity to study this subject with an expert faculty and fellow lawyers from around the world — many of whom have experienced working on initiatives in their home countries," she said.

"We come from different legal traditions, mother tongues and cultures and the opportunity for the exchange of ideas and to learn from each other has been exceptional."

The personal mission

While his future father-in-law's reception was an influential career starter, Loris insists his upbringing as the product of a first-generation Greek father and second-generation Irish mother would have led him to some degree of career altruism.

"From a young age I was very privileged, so I wanted to use that for good," he said. "A lot of people wait until the end of their career to give back and get involved. I just thought if I tried, I could do that my whole career."

Though he has spent decades learning different languages (he is either fluent or can hold conversations in French, Italian, Spanish, Egyptian Arabic, Greek, Swedish, Polish and English), working on nearly every continent and spreading his gospel to whomever will embrace him, Loris is still trying to figure out how to take the global rule-of-law establishment to higher levels at a point in his career when most people would be slowing down. This includes creating partnerships with more countries and working to expand PROLAW.

"The resilience of change will rest on whether or not the people in the countries can lead the waves of change themselves," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done to get others to look at PROLAW and incorporate its thinking."

When Loris does take a break from his work — and his wife takes a break from running a language center at Roma Tre University — it's at a small, beachfront home in Greece.

But even on those breaks, he's thinking about his next move in the name of rule-of-law development, and it appears that nothing short of mortality will keep him from his life's work.

"I'm 66 years old," he said. "At this point, if I was going to retire, I would have."