How can something as seemingly far away as the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) lead to a wildly successful panel at the State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Meeting & Conference (AMC)? A fair question. In 2014 I saw on the Facebook page of the Enough Project, a nonprofit that works on preventing mass atrocities among other things, that none other than Aaron Rodgers and Andy Mulumba of the Green Bay Packers were speaking out about the conflict. I thought that was really interesting, and filed the idea away for later use.
In summer 2015, I found out that the 2016 AMC would be in Green Bay. A dormant idea woke up. Maybe we could get a Green Bay Packer to speak at the AMC on the topic of the conflict in the DRC! Andy Mulumba was especially intriguing as a potential speaker, because he is a native of DRC. I had never put on a panel at the AMC before, but when I asked State Bar officials what they thought of the idea, and they said, “go for it!” The process was straightforward: it involved filling out a summary of the panel, securing panelists, and submitting forms in a timely manner.
First, I reached out to a contact at the U.N. who had worked in Goma, DRC, during the conflict. She put me in touch with a non-attorney expert on the conflict. I asked him to participate and he declined, as he was too busy. He recommended others, but they were all based in either Washington, DC, or the DRC, and I was trying to keep costs down, so I did not reach out to them. Only later, in doing my own research for the panel, did I discover that this expert quite literally wrote the book on the conflict in DRC. I should have followed-up! This is, after all, a comedy of errors.
Nathan Kirschner, American University-Washington College of Law 2003, is an appellate litigation attorney with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He is the liaison between the ABA Center for Human Rights and the State Bar of Wisconsin, provided pro bono services through ABA's International Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and UNDP, is on the advisory council of Public International Law and Policy Group (PILPG), and has published articles on international law.
I reached out to the Packers in a much more roundabout way than needed. I looked up their legal team on their website, cross-referenced the names I found there with the Wisconsin Lawyer Directory, and placed a call. I left a voicemail, not really expecting a response. That afternoon I got a call from the Packers. They said the panel sounded like a great idea, and something Andy would like to do; all I had to do was submit a form requesting a player’s appearance.
Simultaneously, I reached out to the Enough Project about potential speakers, looking for lawyers. They did not recommend a lawyer, but instead recommended Mike Loch, from Chicago, an industry expert who was named the most influential person in conflict minerals in 2016. Mike agreed to participate, and we had the beginning of the panel.
I also reached out to a contact at American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights. He recommended Amanda Rawls, the director of the Africa Division of ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative (ROLI). She agreed quickly.
In early 2016, at an International Practice Section networking event, I ran into a friend and mentioned the topic with him. It just so happened that Karen Woody, a good friend of his and fellow alumna of our alma mater American University–Washington College of Law, was an expert in the regulation of conflict minerals pursuant to Dodd-Frank. Woody was a professor of business law at the University of Indiana–Bloomington, and also agreed quickly.
A little later in the year, a fellow Board Member of the International Practice Section met a 3L at a function at U.W. Law School (now a Wisconsin attorney), and found out he wrote an article in the Wisconsin International Law Journal discussing the conflict in the DRC and comparing U.S. conflict mineral regulation pursuant to Dodd-Frank with proposed European Union regulations. She told him about our panel, I contacted him, he agreed, and the panel had four members.
Unfortunately, in April 2014, the Packers informed me that Andy Mulumba signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He would not be able to participate in the panel. While I was sad that the inspiration for the panel would not be joining it, it had already taken on a life of its own.
Another bump in the road came when Mike Loch, our industry expert, informed me he would be attending another conference in Kampala, Uganda, on the same day as our panel, and that he might not be able to participate. We discussed having him participate via Skype, and after discussing with State Bar staff, that is exactly what he did. It was the first time that someone participated in an AMC panel via telepresence, and by all accounts it went very well.
And so it went. The event, called “Conflict Minerals and Wisconsin Connections to the Conflict in the Congo,” was impressive. Without its inspiration. Without the recommendations of the expert who wrote the book on the conflict. It still presented four experts, hailing from four cities, and one of them appearing from an ocean away. The audience roared. Well, they didn’t roar, but few slept. Not bad for the first time.
In short, if you have an idea for a panel topic at the AMC, no matter how ludicrous, go for it! It is not as hard as it seems.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author alone, and do not represent those of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.