The International Bar Association (IBA) has announced plans for a review that will look at the professional role of lawyers as ethical gatekeepers within wider society.
The lawyers’ organisation said that the project would help to clarify the ethical responsibilities and obligations of lawyers when providing legal services.
The move a response to recent criticism of the legal profession over the provision of services to individuals and entities linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“These attacks follow existing and sustained charges levied against the profession in relation to perceived facilitation of illicit financial activity, enabling climate change, and frustrating the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals,” the IBA said.
The body described its new project as “a proactive effort” that would seek ways to engage in meaningful dialogue with those criticising the profession, while also explaining the dangers of undermining of the core values of the legal profession.
IBA president Sternford Moyo (small picture) said that organisation was addressing one of the greatest challenges facing the profession – “namely, how to respond to the ethical challenges and criticisms that lawyers face in relation to our profession’s core principles and the provision of legal services”.
He referred to accusations that lawyers hid behind and abused some of the key principles of the profession – including the protection provided by lawyer-client confidentiality – to shield and protect the ethically questionable behaviour of their clients.
Erosion of principles
Moyo said that the IBA now needed “a much broader and more comprehensive international response” to address concerns, while also defending the core principles of the profession.
“If nothing is done, there is a real danger that the vital importance of these principles will be eroded and gradually forgotten in the eyes of wider society,” he added.
The Gatekeepers Project, led by the IBA’s Legal Policy & Research Unit (LPRU), will start with a consultative exercise across the IBA membership, to invite input from bar associations, law societies, law firms and individual practitioners.
A series of publications will follow – including guidance for law firms on how to navigate the ethical minefields posed by modern commercial legal practice, and an update or ethical commentary for the latest version of IBA’s International Principles on Conduct for the Legal Profession.