In his welcome address to 6,000 international lawyers at the IBA’s annual conference in Washington DC (which was attended by a small number of Bermuda attorneys), David W Rivkin, Co-Chair of International Dispute Resolution at Debevoise & Plimpton, urged all lawyers to behave more ethically because “publicity about one lawyer who crosses the line harms all of us”.
This is the same important message as the one which he published in February 2016 on the IBA’s website. The message was prompted in part by a Global Witness report on lawyers’ unethical behavior, which had received substantial press coverage, including a long report by the widely watched 60 Minutes television show in the United States.
An investigator from Global Witness posed as an advisor to a senior official of a foreign government seeking to move anonymously into the US millions of dollars of funds that appeared to have been obtained through corrupt activity.
The investigator put this proposal to lawyers from 13 New York City law firms and secretly filmed the lawyers’ responses. Only one lawyer refused to discuss the matter, and the others provided to varying degrees suggestions on how money could be transferred into the US without detection, largely by using shell companies or ‘cooperative’ or ‘less strict’ banks; some even suggested the use of their own law firm’s bank account.
As David Rivkin put it, “the exposé certainly reflects poorly on the legal profession and undermines public trust and confidence in us as lawyers. It also raises concerns about the effectiveness of professional ethical rules and training to guard against such behavior“.
Moral of the story?
Behave More Ethically.