ILAC came about from a recognition that the re-establishment of the rule of law in war-torn countries by legal assistance organisations needed to be more effectively managed and coordinated.
In the late 1990s, several lawyers, foremost among them Mark S. Ellis, today Executive Director of the International Bar Association (IBA), and Bill Meyer of the American Bar Association, lifted the possibility of better marshalling legal development assistance to countries in need. The founders of ILAC felt strongly that the international and domestic legal communities should concentrate on the legal system at the very start of the reconstruction process. At the time, duplication of international development projects to rule of law reform process was a challenge.
The overall objective was to ensure that the efforts of legal aid entities would be more effective if they were coordinated by one organisation. Rebuilding legal systems was often an afterthought, yet each intervention determined that ILAC would continue to support these legal reform processes through its members, and by extension their national partners.
The emphasis was on creating an umbrella organisation to help put legal restructuring of post-conflict settings and to secure collaboration on justice reform initiatives. Joan Winship nurtured the ILAC concept through her leadership at the US based Stanley Foundation. Between 1997 and 2000 they sponsored several workshops and conferences held in the US in which international jurists explored the idea of an umbrella organisation. The Swedish and Irish governments and the IBA also provided crucial preliminary funding.
Following a conference in December 2000 in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, supported by the Swedish government and attended by 40 organisations from around the world, it was then registered as a non -governmental organisation (NGO) under Swedish law almost a year later in November 2001. In September 2002, ILAC opened its doors in Stockholm under the stewardship of Christian Åhlund. A former senior partner of a Swedish law firm, Åhlund’s experience included many international assignments in the field of human rights – particularly in Bosnia-Hercegovina where he served as a Director General for Human Rights for the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
ILAC now has more than 80 member organisations and individual experts representing more than 3 million lawyers worldwide.