President's Message

One World, One Profession

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Our world grows smaller each day. Few could have imagined even five years ago the scope and implications of the changes resulting from globalization of commerce and law.

More American lawyers today serve clients with international business concerns than ever before. From large multinational corporations to small businesses, global, economic, business and legal issues affect us all. In contract disputes, intellectual property thefts and product liability cases, for example, the issues of which nation’s laws apply and which venue is most appropriate to resolve disputes are commonplace.

Prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers and government regulators also face multiplying cases in which foreign law is implicated as more foreign nationals come into contact with the U.S. justice system. Lawyers worldwide now must be aware of the laws, customs and precedents of other nations. And the current debate raging in the U.S. on immigration policy highlights the vital role that lawyers and judges play in determining who stays in our country and who must leave.

Addressing the ABA House of Delegates last August, Justice Stephen G. Breyer noted the need for American lawyers and judges to keep up with escalating changes in international law. He cited six recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with the application of international law, and urged American lawyers and law students to broaden their exposure to and understanding of international law.

Access to legal services markets worldwide has also become an important issue as more foreign lawyers seek admission in the U.S., and as more American lawyers do the same abroad. The ABA supports the adoption of foreign legal consultant rules in the states and is discussing with foreign bar associations how these rules may benefit our respective members and clients.

ABA Crossing Borders

To remain competitive on the international stage and to advance the rule of law and human rights, American lawyers must engage with our colleagues abroad at several levels. The ABA is advancing these goals in a number of ways.

One is by entering into agreements with the national bar associations of China and Russia that provide mutual benefits through lawyer exchanges, joint programming and educational opportunities. These relationships will open foreign legal markets for American lawyers while advancing the ABA’s efforts to promote the rule of law and the protection of human and legal rights. If we fail to engage with our counterparts in emerging democracies—if we stand on the sidelines—others will influence the development of the legal systems, economies and living conditions of those nations.

The judiciary and the legal profession in virtually all nations, including ours, are now experiencing unprecedented governmental attempts to curtail judicial discretion, alter the relationship of trust between lawyer and client, and limit the time-honored role of the lawyer as a zealous advocate who pursues justice and defends freedom. But while the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession is under increasing attack throughout the world, the real target is the rule of law.

To address these and other issues since I took office last August, I have worked with bar leaders of the world to unite the legal professions in all nations as one profession with commonly held principles. At my request, the ABA House of Delegates at the 2006 midyear meeting in Chicago adopted a Statement of Core Principles (PDF) for the legal profession worldwide.

The statement, originally adopted by approximately 100 bar leaders from more than 40 nations with whom I met in Paris last November, expresses the non-negotiable principles to which the legal profession throughout the world, in the interest of the people, is committed: an impartial and independent judiciary, an independent legal profession, and access to justice for all people. Without these principles, the rule of law, or freedom, cannot exist.

I am pleased that bar associations throughout the world are adopting the Statement of Core Principles. I urge you to join in the effort to unite the legal professions of the world into one.

The rule of law, and freedom, depend on it.

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