The Middle East Partnership Initiative (“MEPI”), sponsored by the U.S. State Department, recently invited 39 young professional women from the Middle East and North Africa to the U.S. for six months. The purpose of the MEPI is to create links and partnerships with Arab and U.S. civil society as well as governments to jointly achieve sustainable reform. Under this special initiative, these women professionals participated in a six month internship program which included work for U.S. companies and law firms as well as academic study. Seven U.S. cities participated in this initiative including Chicago.
Nine MEPI women professionals were hosted in Chicago through the International Visitors Center of Chicago. Prior to arriving in Chicago in late April, these women professionals attended a four week MBA-level or LLM-level academic program at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. The following Chicago area businesses and law firms hosted the MEPI fellows: Motorola; WW Grainger; Wildman Harrold; Blue Cross Blue Shield; Kraft; Baker & McKenzie; and, Jenner & Block.
Jenner & Block hosted Nuha Al Bashir, a lawyer from Jordan. Ms. Al Bashir received her Bachelor’s of Law in 2005 from the University of Jordan and her Master’s of Law in Public International Law from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom in 2006. Her professional interests included international commerce, international law, human rights, corporate law and human resources. While at Jenner & Block, Ms. Al Bashir worked on a number of legal matters including: Guantanamo Bay detainee cases; an asylum case; United Nations investigation; and, a U.S. corporate M&A. In addition, she worked with the Firm’s Women’s Forum, attended internal and external CLE programs and participated in the 2007 summer program.
Upon getting ready to return to Jordan, Ms. Al Bashir provided the following insight into her fellowship experience and observations about U.S. lawyers:
1. What did you enjoy most about your MEPI internship?
I can’t specify one particular thing that I enjoyed most. All I can say is that the experience as a whole was a very enjoyable one. Starting with meeting different women from different countries in the Middle East and learning about each other, and about other cultures and traditions, and then going back to school, learning new topics, new talents and new skills. The internship was an experience in itself, meeting new people, learning new methods and techniques about how those huge well known and multi-national firms function, challenging yourself to take and grasp as much as you can of everything you are learning and seeing. Now, I go back and remember how I used to wake up every day and wonder, how this day is going to be more enjoyable than the day before it.
2. Are there significant differences between law practice in Jordan versus what you experienced in the U.S.?
There isn’t that huge difference between practicing law in Jordan and what I experienced here in the U.S. I think the main difference is that in Jordan because law firms are smaller in size than the ones in the U.S., you rarely can find that a lawyer is practicing one field of the law. For example a civil litigator can also do corporate or commercial practice. But here in the U.S., lawyers are usually specialized in a particular practice which I think make them more efficient and competent in what they do.
3. Is the practice of law different for U.S. women attorneys than for Jordanian women attorneys? If so, what are the differences?
I believe women attorneys in the U.S. face the same difficulties Jordanian women attorneys may face, which could include for example discrimination in getting higher manager positions. But I believe that, in Jordan, less women are preferring to practice law (although the percentage of females in law schools is higher than 50 percent) or a particular area of the law (ex. criminal law), for reasons that may include, preferring to be a house wife and raising children since being a lawyer is a tough job and requires long working hours, or preferring office work than going to courts and dealing with criminals and so on. So it’s a personal decision that women take, although sometimes traditions and cultural values may influence this decision.
4. Do you and your fellow interns hope to return to the U.S. for business and/or pleasure?
We all hope that we can return back to the U.S. either for pleasure, education or business. We all loved the U.S., the cities we lived in and visited. We made a lot of good friends here in the U.S. and we are hoping to keep in touch with them and come see them again and they visit us in our countries. Personally, I really hope to come back to the U.S. for education after I finish my two years home residency, as I always wanted to finish my PhD from a well-respected American University, (Harvard Law School has always been my dream), and I’m sure I will be back for pleasure sometime soon, as my fellow interns and I, joke around and say “We might come back in Christmas for a Reunion.”
5. Would you recommend other women professionals participate in the MEPI program?
I will definitely recommend the MEPI program for other women. I will also help them to avoid some of the difficulties my fellow interns and I faced, and try to encourage them to make the best of their time in the U.S. Actually, five of my fellow interns and I have been asked to speak in the Capital Hall to the Senate’s Foreign Relationships Committee, who usually sponsor the MEPI program, and try to influence their views of the MEPI program and to keep sponsoring it in future, to allow and give as much women as possible the opportunity to take advantage of such a great program.
Before returning to Jordan, Ms. Al Bashir was reunited with her fellow MEPI interns in DC. They attended a special closing reception hosted by the U.S. State Department and also appeared before the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee to encourage continued support of the MEPI program.