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Carl Valenstein, right, receiving his award with Jay Zimmerman

Adjunct Carl Valenstein, '83, Honored for Work with ITC, Habitat for Humanity

By John Masson
June 17, 2013

Michigan Law adjunct Prof. Carl Valenstein, '83, says there were two important messages delivered when his firm, Bingham, recently honored him with a public service award for his work setting up a microfinancing fund with Michigan Law's International Transaction Clinic and Habitat for Humanity.

Those messages? Pro bono: it's not just for litigators anymore—and it's not just for associates, either.

"I think I have pro bono work in my DNA," said Valenstein, a Bingham partner. "But I'm a deal lawyer, and it seems so many pro bono opportunities are for litigators. So when I found this microfinance space, it became clear that this is something a transaction lawyer can do to give back."

Bingham agreed, recognizing with its John J. Curtin Public Service Award last month the complex legal work done by Valenstein and his Bingham pro bono team in collaboration with the student lawyers from Michigan Law's ITC.

The award is named after a Bingham of counsel and public service advocate who served a term as president of the American Bar Association.

In his role as a Michigan Law adjunct, Valenstein was the ITC's supervising attorney—in addition to his pro bono role at Bingham—on a groundbreaking Habitat for Humanity deal that could help thousands of under-housed families in countries around the globe. The deal established MicroBuild, a microfinancing fund for people in developing countries that's designed to help low-income families improve and maintain their homes, or even build new ones.

View a video on the Habitat deal here.

MicroBuild is tailored to make small loans through financial intermediaries to people living in places where traditional financing is unavailable—about 95 percent of the developing world, as it turns out—and where home construction is often incremental and ad hoc. It was established with $45 million in financing and $5 million in equity from Habitat for Humanity, the Omidyar Network Fund and Triple Jump, the Dutch fund manager. Valenstein’ s team spent years on the project and student attorneys from the Michigan Law clinic helped create the legal documents that brought MicroBuild to life.

"I think the ITC is unique in that respect," Valenstein said. "There are a lot of other experiential learning clinics, of course, but they're not doing deals like this. The deals in most clinics tend to be local projects and not as big in terms of the dollars involved or potential impact. That's what makes the ITC different."

Valenstein and a team from Bingham and the ITC, where Valenstein has taught for five years, collaborated on the work. The Bingham team filled in when the ITC student were out of school.

Valenstein had co-taught courses as his alma mater before, he said, but was drawn to do more teaching after Prof. Deborah Burand founded the ITC with Prof. Michael Barr almost five years ago.

"Deborah had been a pro bono client of mine years before, when she worked with several microfinance institutions, and I was reading Law Quadrangle magazine and saw that she'd come to work at Michigan," Valenstein said. "When Michael Barr went into the Obama Administration, she needed help, and … I saw that this was a way of using my skill set to help develop the next generation of international lawyers and participate in a novel clinical program at my alma mater."

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