Jones Day partner's trial tutoring of attorneys has been rewarding
October 22, 2012 4:00 AM
Michael Ginsberg, a partner with Jones Day law firm, sits with photographs and paintings from Kenya. Mr. Ginsberg volunteered his time to train trial lawyers in Nairobi.
By Patricia Sabatini Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
One of the most enjoyable parts of Michael Ginsberg's job as a partner and trial lawyer with Jones Day in Pittsburgh is training new attorneys.
So when the firm asked him in 2009 to travel to Kenya to do pro bono work helping judges and attorneys improve their trial skills, he enthusiastically accepted.
And he wasn't disappointed that he did.
"I fell in love with the country. I fell in love with the people," he said. "I fell in love with the program," a volunteer mission coordinated by the nonprofit Lawyers Without Borders.
This August, Mr. Ginsberg again spent a week there, completing his third trip to the East African nation, a democracy and former British colony that declared its independence in 1963. "The people are enormously friendly and welcoming and receptive to the ideas we're bringing them about how to try cases," he said.
Mr. Ginsberg, who traveled with a colleague from the firm's Washington, D.C., office, taught prosecutors, police inspectors and judges in the capital of Nairobi, using mock trials to work on such skills as opening statements, cross examinations and closing arguments.
Michael H. Ginsberg
• Age: 52
• Education: B.A., political science and English, Rutgers University, 1982; J.D., Harvard University, 1985
• Residence: Ben Avon
• Occupation: Partner, Jones Day, Downtown Pittsburgh
• Career background: Joined Jones Day in Pittsburgh in 1993 and became a partner in 1995. Concentrates on insurance coverage, commercial, environmental, toxic tort and products liability litigation. Previously with Cohen & Grigsby in Pittsburgh and Reed Smith in Pittsburgh.
• Family: Born in Louisiana and grew up mainly in Morgantown, W.Va., before moving to Pittsburgh after graduating from law school in 1985. Wife, Cathy; daughters, Corey (30) and Elizabeth (24); son, Max (23).
"In Kenya, they don't traditionally have opening statements," Mr. Ginsberg said. "So we are teaching doing opening statements and teaching judges the value of having them for framing of issues for the court."
His students were quick studies.
"They really improved amazingly in the week," he said. "They really soaked it up like sponges."
On all three trips, training focused on prosecuting sexual assault crimes, an emerging area of law in Kenya.
It wasn't until 2006 that the country passed a Sexual Offences Act, which defined rape, sexual assault, indecent acts with children and other gender crimes of violence. The act added protections for victims in court, similar to rape shield laws in the United States, that bar bringing up past sexual conduct as evidence.
"[Prosecutors] can't say, 'You are a loose woman, so you can't be raped,' " Mr. Ginsberg said.
The country also enacted a new constitution in 2010, which overhauled a court system rife with corruption.
"It's really rewarding to become part of that process," he said.
Mr. Ginsberg also was impressed with the "spectacular beauty" of the national parks and the resolve of the nation's people to protect wild animals, despite the country's widespread poverty.
"I have pictures of zebras, water buffaloes, giraffes and monkeys that we saw in national parks. They have preserved the wilderness parts of the country even though they have enormous struggles. I appreciate that."
But the picturesque country has a dark side -- rampant crime, a symptom of a struggling population mainly void of a middle class. The U.S. State Department warns on its website of "regular reports of attacks against tourists by groups of armed assailants."
And it states that "violent and sometimes fatal criminal attacks, including armed car-jackings, home invasions/burglaries and kidnappings can occur at any time and in any location, most particularly in Nairobi."
"It's useful to be aware of your surroundings," is how Mr. Ginsberg put it. "I wouldn't go into certain areas unaccompanied."
In Nairobi, private residences and public venues such as hotels and restaurants typically are surrounded by fences, he said. "Pull into a shopping center and there is a guard at the gate who gives you a pass to get in and out."
Still, Mr. Ginsberg said he never encountered any problems or had any trepidations about traveling there.
He wants other attorneys to know there are vast opportunities to help improve trial skills in emerging democracies like Kenya.
Because they have similar judicial systems to the United States, "any former British colony is a ripe place to do this kind of teaching," he said.
Mr. Ginsberg said he was particularly proud of how the program included instructing Kenyan lawyers on how to train other lawyers.
"The ultimate goal is to make the program self-sustaining."