Executive Director's Report

Advancing the Rule of Law

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In this column last month, I noted that as I prepare to step down as executive director and chief operating officer at the end of this association year on Aug. 31, I would devote my last three columns to challenges I see facing the ABA as well as successes we have enjoyed. This month, I would like to offer some observations on the global challenges ahead of us.

The association has long had a commitment to international issues. Beginning in 1924, we have held five of our an­nual meetings in London with the bench and bar of the United King­dom. The most recent occasion was in 2000, when we celebrated the new millennium with our British colleagues. Our Section of International Law dates back to 1933.

During the past 15 years, we have implemented a broad array of programs in support of legal and judicial reform in transitioning countries. The Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative is the oldest and largest of these programs. From 1998 to 2002, similar initiatives were established to focus on Africa, Asia and Latin America. All four regional initiatives are now part of our Center for Rule of Law Initiatives, which was established in 2004. In addition, the ABA Center for Human Rights was established in 2001.

Today, through our Center for Rule of Law Initiatives, our Center for Human Rights, the Section of Interna­­tional Law and other sections, the ABA actively supports the efforts of judges, lawyers, legislators, government officials, legal educators and nongovernmental organiza­tions to build sustainable institutions that will pro­mote and protect the rule of law throughout the world. This important work is a reflection of our commitment to ABA Goal VIII: To Advance the Rule of Law in the World.

Where do we go from here? Increasingly, international developments have an immediate impact on the administration of justice in this country and on the practice of law by American lawyers. We must be prepared to provide leadership in addressing these issues for lawyers in this country and lawyers throughout the world.


Legal services in this country are now subject to the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Trade in Services, to which the United States is bound as a mem­ber of the WTO. This agreement may soon have an impact on the way lawyers are regulated in this country and around the world.

Of the approximately 4 million lawyers in the world, more than 1 million are in the U.S. We should address important international issues in concert with our colleagues in other bar associations around the world. Critical issues, such as respect for human rights and protection of an independent judiciary, demand that the legal profession throughout the world speak with one voice.

Already, there is a developing consensus around the world as to important goals for the future development of the law. A 2003 survey showed that eight of 10 U.S. lawyers believe that society and the legal profession would benefit from the convergence of laws across international borders. The survey, conducted by the Inter­national Bar Association and sponsored by LexisNexis, showed that 73 percent of respondents worldwide supported international standardization of laws on money transmission and laundering. Trade and investment (67 percent), environmental protection (64 percent), and terrorism and security (64 percent) also were identified as areas that should be addressed globally.

Through our Center for Rule of Law Initiatives, the ABA increasingly plays a crucial role in international conflict mitigation by increasing awareness of human rights standards and humanitarian law, documenting human rights abuses, and improving access to the courts. The ABA assists in efforts to increase the independence and professionalism of judiciaries by educating judges in developing countries about the functioning of judicial systems in developed democracies, supporting legislative reforms affecting the judiciary, and promoting the development and implementation of judicial ethics.

The ABA is poised to take on an increasingly international agenda in the years to come. Legal professions throughout the world have much to offer one another, and the association has a wealth of experience and knowledge to offer the international legal community, as the more than 3,200 foreign lawyers who are ABA members can attest.

I am confident that the ABA is well-prepared to meet the challenges of an increasingly globalized legal profession in the years to come.

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