Report from Governmental Affairs

Global Impact: The ABA's advocacy has influence on the international stage

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The ABA’s efforts to improve laws and regulations and defend the rule of law are not limited to the United States; the ABA’s voice is also heard around the world.

Opening jurisdictions to U.S. law firms, strengthening the rule of law, and improving the quality of laws through education, law reform and advocacy are important components of the ABA’s global work. Here is a sampling of the ABA’s efforts and the impacts they have had.

The ABA has for decades supported enabling U.S. law firms to establish offices overseas and associate freely with foreign lawyers and law firms. The ABA Governmental Affairs Office regularly communicates with the Office of the United States Trade Representative and Department of Commerce on legal services-related issues in ongoing trade negotiations, and ABA leaders routinely engage directly with bar leaders and government officials in foreign countries to press for enhanced market access.

The ABA Rule of Law Initiative has worked to combat hereditary slavery (being born into slavery) in Mali. ROLI’s Mali program has advocated with the Malian legislature to criminalize descent-based slavery. It also has partnered with civil society organizations to train judges, lawyers and civil society advocacy groups on how to litigate slavery cases, and it has helped community leaders with using alternative dispute resolution techniques to negotiate victims’ freedom. As a result of the program, 40 victims of slavery have so far been freed.

In Poland, the ABA Center for Human Rights repeatedly has fought attacks on judicial independence. In July 2017, then-ABA President Linda Klein expressed concern about threats to judicial independence, including then-pending legislation that would have forced the early retirement of the majority of Poland’s Supreme Court judges. A few days later, Poland’s president vetoed the law.

But the ABA’s work was not done. Responding to the Polish government’s continued efforts to undermine the independence of the judiciary, successive ABA presidents Hilarie Bass and Judy Perry Martinez also released statements and engaged in follow-up advocacy.

The Center for Human Rights continues to monitor proceedings and publicly document fair-trial violations in Poland.

The ABA International Law Section is a leader in developing policy in the international arena, promoting the rule of law and educating international law practitioners. As part of its work, it develops “rule of law” letters for ABA presidents to send to leaders of countries where rule of law violations are alleged to have occurred in order to speak for those unable to speak freely and stand with those who advocate for a just rule of law.

In a letter sent by then-ABA President Patricia Lee Refo to Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his top tax and finance cabinet officials in October 2020, the ABA expressed concern about the administration’s efforts to enforce compliance with Mexican tax obligations that had the effect of limiting the practices of tax lawyers in providing counsel to their clients. The letter said those efforts breached “fundamental notions” of due process and human rights. It received widespread media attention in Mexico, resulting in a response from the Mexican government denying that it violates taxpayers’ right to legal counsel and asserting that taxpayers have the right to legal representation. The letter created an opportunity for concerned Mexican citizens and lawyers to openly discuss the issue in public for the first time.

One role of the ABA Antitrust Law Section is to offer agencies and legislators around the world its recommendations on how laws, regulations and guidelines in areas such as competition, consumer protection and data privacy can be refined and improved. The section estimates that since 2013, recipient agencies have adopted roughly 38% of its recommendations.

When Peru’s competition and consumer protection agency released its Guidelines on Trade Associations & Competition in August 2019, it adopted all five recommendations from the Antitrust Section (submitted jointly with the International Law Section). The Peruvian agency included the section’s recommendation that its guide advise readers to seek specialized advice from antitrust counsel and a warning that trade associations, their officers and employees could be at risk for antitrust liability.

Each of these global activities has been carried out using different ABA policy-advocacy procedures, all coordinated with the Governmental Affairs Office, which plays a lead role in association advocacy at home and abroad.

Throughout the world, the ABA strives to hold governments accountable under law, help ensure meaningful access to justice for all and ensure the American legal profession can serve clients as needed in this era of globalization. The ABA is the American Bar Association, but its broad portfolio of initiatives and advocacy extend beyond geographic boundaries.

This report is written by the ABA's Governmental Affairs Office and discusses advocacy efforts by the ABA relating to issues being addressed by Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government.

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