The UN Cop26 climate summit currently taking place in Glasgow will undoubtedly see its share of protests. There are lawyers present, and legal events around the conference.
I do not imagine that the lawyers will stick to the roads. Rather, the event highlights a battle – kindled by fires caused by climate change, if you will – that continues to try to define the role of lawyers as “professional facilitators,” a term intended for us. harm.
The name of “professional facilitator” is growing in popularity all the time, to the point that the forces that oppose us are gaining strength and seeming overwhelming. I will mention some very recent developments below.
The insult is meant to cover our part by allowing customer tax evasion as in the recent Pandora Papers (thereby reducing the amounts available for schools and hospitals), silencing criticism of foreign billionaires (by their recourse to the courts of London to bring lawsuits which their opponents cannot afford to oppose) and, very strongly currently, in climate change (through our work on behalf of those whose actions are harming the climate) .
We find ourselves barricaded against the charges, like Parisians who throw our furniture out the window into the street to erect a barrier that will not let the new forces pass. But the ideas of the new forces blow up our old beds and cupboards and overwhelm us.
We are therefore throwing out the following principles which have served us well in the past, and which still seem quite sane and impregnable to us. I used climate change as an example, but you can substitute for tax avoidance or any of the other “pro-business” topics:
“Everyone has the right to representation, including those who harm the planet!
“No lawyer should be identified with the interests of his client! “
“Lawyers should not be harassed and intimidated for doing what is legal for their clients! “
“We are in a transitional phase where we still need fossil fuels, and those who produce them need legal representation! “
But the cannon of the new forces weaves their way through whatever obstacles we put in their way, with the seemingly irrefutable:
“You degrade the climate through the work you undertake for your clients!
The bar climate change resolution, launched last week, anticipates this issue by offering to support and guide the profession on how to act in these circumstances.
One of the first tasks of the Bar will be to tackle the thorny issue of ‘professional empowerment’, of course to ensure that the role of the profession is understood, protected and promoted, so as to distract from the ‘Warning. The task can only be accomplished by recognizing the might of the forces which point their arms at us, and not by denying their existence.
Here are two recent and global examples. Following the publication of the Pandora Papers last month, a bipartisan bill was proposed to the US Congress to deal with the fallout. The bill is called the Law establishing new authorities for money laundering in companies and enabling security risks (enablers). The proponents went to all this linguistic trouble just to make sure it would be called the Enablers Act. And of course, those caught up by the measures he wants to expand to new groups are the ones he wants to ensure are labeled as professional facilitators, including … lawyers.
There was also a story last week about the famous consulting firm McKinsey, which advises many of the biggest polluting companies around the world. More than 1,100 of its employees have signed an open letter to the firm’s key partners, urging them to disclose how much carbon their clients emit into the atmosphere. Several employees have since resigned.
As with many law firms, McKinsey’s own carbon footprint is tiny compared to that of some of the companies it advises. And again echoing McKinsey, some junior attorneys at large law firms don’t want to work with clients who harm the planet.
It’s time for a public conversation. Otherwise, we will find ourselves stuck with the label, with unforeseeable consequences linked to our future regulations.
Of course, the Law Society’s core work of tackling unsustainable legal aid pay rates and the dire state of the courts, as well as maintaining the Lawyers Compensation Fund (SIF), will continue.
But the future reputation of the profession is today at stake through a series of professional questions, where lawyers are very identified with the interests of their clients, and where some even question the client’s right of representation, and so on. t is the duty of the Bar to finally step up and support the profession with new ideas that will protect us from unwarranted attacks.
Jonathan Goldsmith is a member of the Bar Council for European Affairs and former Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Professional Orders in Europe. All opinions expressed are personal and are not expressed in his capacity as a member of the Bar Council, nor on behalf of the Bar