A Conversation with Stephen Gardner on the Global Practice of Business Law


On Thursday, March 5, 2020, Mr. Stephen Gardner (‘91) joined students for lunch and a conversation on the global practice of business law. Mr. Gardner is an alumnus of the Washington College of Law and is the current Chief Counsel for the Commercial Law Development Program (CLDP) within the U.S. Department of Commerce. CLDP spans the globe, operating in fifty countries to improve the legal environment of business worldwide. Mr. Gardner explained that CLDP accomplishes this goal by providing technical assistance and development to help improve countries’ legal and regulatory systems.

CLDP strives to help countries understand that good leadership, ethics, and transparency – not bribery, corruption, and nepotism – create lasting economic success. Mr. Gardner indicated that all of CLDP’s work is demand driven – the agency seeks to work with countries that want to work with CLDP. The process of providing assistance begins when CLDP approaches a country and asks, “What are you working to do, and how can we help?” This involves a detailed economic and business law analysis of the country. Because CLDP wants to ensure that the work that the Program is doing is useful, the country will set priorities, and CLDP will assist with progress, primarily through draft regulations, new laws and skills training for government workers.

Mr. Gardner and CLDP also work to help even the playing field for US companies and combat anticompetitive practices, including those from China as well as other parts of the world, by highlighting potentially unfavorable and hidden terms in business and government contracting proposals and by encouraging deals with higher business, professional, and ethical standards. When asked to give an example of his work, Mr. Gardner described a time when he was sitting with the president of the Maldives to work on a system for evaluating unsolicited proposals for infrastructure. Mr. Gardner spoke with President Salih about what unanticipated and potentially troublesome strings may be attached with many of those proposals.

Mr. Gardner emphasized that CLDP is hiring and students who are seeking opportunities to clerk for a government agency that does international development and business law work should consider applying to CLDP. Even for 1Ls, Mr. Gardner stated that is never too early to designate your interest. He indicated that a major task of his position involves hiring the best  people to do this work - highly qualified candidates who often speak another language fluently. For law students, Mr. Gardner said that the one of best things you can do in law school is to get involved in the VIS Moot (an international commercial arbitration competition for law students). He advised students that the VIS Moot provides great training for business law students and a valuable network of lawyers working in international commerce.

Mr. Gardner joins a distinguished list of Conversations Series leaders, which includes SEC Commissioner Michael Piwowar; Gail Levine, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Competition at the FTC; and Gregory G. Garre, former United States Solicitor General.

To stay informed about future Conversations Series and other Business Law Program events, join the Business Law Program’s Faculty Practice Group.