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ABA and European Lawyers Alert IMF of Potential Threats to Independence of the Legal Profession

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 5, 2012 — In a Dec. 21, 2011, letter to the International Monetary Fund, the American Bar Association and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe express concerns that proposed reforms to the legal profession in several European countries could lead to an erosion of the administration of justice.  The letter cites “disturbing trends” in legal reform proposals in countries such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal as a result of the economic downturn and actions of the Troika.

This is more about the public than about lawyers.  What is truly at stake is the public’s access to justice.  Independent lawyers with the responsibility of putting the client first, and the privileged communication and confidentiality that is a core value of that relationship, are the very foundation of an open legal system and a free society.  In very real terms, the relationship of a client with a lawyer—totally devoted to the best interests of that client exclusively—is critical to receiving unfettered, needed legal advice in day-to-day matters, as well as protecting and enforcing the client’s fundamental rights in a constitutional democracy.

In their letter, the two lawyers’ groups write, “… [W]e are concerned that initiatives are being taken based on a purely economic approach.  We are of the impression that these proposals have been developed within a few weeks without taking account of the purpose/justification of professional regulation and without analyzing the impact of such proposals on the administration of justice.”

Specifically, the letter expresses concern that reforms would affect the public’s access to justice.  “They [reforms] will not only affect the structure of the legal profession and the lawyer’s role in society, but most importantly will be to the detriment of all people who are in need of a lawyer.”

The letter warns that proposed reforms are inconsistent with regulation independent from the executive branch of the state, one of the core principles of the legal profession in the United States, Europe and internationally.  “It is the cornerstone of any democratic society based on the rule of law and also necessary for the sound administration of justice,” the letter explains.   “Pressure to undermine the independence of the legal profession is not only a matter of concern to lawyers and judges, but to people everywhere as this independence is critical to the fair and equal protection of human rights, the development of healthy economies, and the facilitation of political stability.”

The letter notes that lawyers, bars and law societies are open to reform if needed, particularly in a depressed economy; however, it says that current proposals exceed what is necessary, and raise fundamental questions of compliance with international norms.

The CCBE is the representative organization of approximately 1 million European lawyers through its member bars and law societies from 31 full member countries, and 11 further associate and observer countries.

The full text of the open letter is published on the CCBE website and can be found here.

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world.  As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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