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For lawyers and law firms, the global community is a reality, not a slogan. And it is bringing unprecedented challenges as well as opportunities. What advice should a lawyer give to a client company when it learns that a bribe is expected as a condition for doing business with a foreign government? Or that another nation’s courts won’t protect intellectual property or enforce business contracts? Or that if the company must go to court, the judge may take secret telephone instructions on how to rule in the case? These issues were just a few of the many raised on Nov. 9 and 10, during an American Bar Association symposium on one of the most far-reaching issues of our time: making the rule of law a global reality. Over the course of those two days, more than 400 jurists, lawyers, government officials, nongovernmental organization members, philanthropists and corporate leaders from 40 nations gathered in Washington to hear such speakers as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; senators Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Supreme Court justices Sandra Day O’Connor, Anthony M. Kennedy and Stephen G. Breyer; former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani; and Philippine Chief Justice Hilario Davide. What makes the rule of law so important that it attracted such a distinguished community? First, because the rule of law is so central to everything the legal community stands for, both in the United States and around the world. And second, because we increasingly find that our nation’s top international priorities-defeating terrorism, corruption and even the spread of deadly diseases-are being undone at the ground level by poor governance and lawlessness. As Rice eloquently told the gathering, “In a world where threats pass even through the most fortified boundaries, weak and poorly governed states enable disease to spread undetected, and corruption to multiply unchecked, and hateful ideologies to grow more violent and more vengeful.” The only real antidote to these global threats is governments, in all corners of the world, that operate with just, transparent and consistent legal systems that are enforced by fair and independent judiciaries. These issues are not just the province of distant foreign governments. Building the rule of law must begin at home. Recent revelations in our own country-that the CIA has maintained secret prisons for foreign detainees-underscore the urgent need for an independent, nonpartisan commission to investigate our treatment of such prisoners. The ABA has a long history on the international stage. In 1990, with the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the ABA created the Central and East European Law Initiative, or CEELI. The ABA has since launched similar efforts in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Rule of law is a necessity We are sometimes asked why American lawyers should devote such effort to building systems of law in other nations. The two-day symposium gave a clear answer: We have no choice. Whether we are lawyers, government officials or members of the business and nonprofit communities, our growth as a nation depends on forming partnerships with other nations that respect law and the rights of their citizens. Our own standing as lawyers-in such areas as protecting the attorney-client privilege-is enhanced when lawyers, and legal systems, are bolstered everywhere. Beyond those practical needs, lawyers have a special calling to promote the rule of law. At the birth of our own nation, when we ourselves were an “emerging democracy,” lawyers took the lead in writing our Constitution and our laws. Similar contributions have occurred in recent years, when our assistance to lawyers and judges in Ukraine and the Republic of Georgia helped them to strengthen the independence of their judiciaries, and to defeat attempts to steal elections through fraud. As O’Connor said, “If we want to have any kind of global understanding and peaceful relations with other nations, I think we have to rely on the institutional notion of rule of law, and along with it, an independent judiciary.” Major role for U.S. lawyers The legal community will always play a central role in a task that is likely to last generations, and that means we need your interest, support and involvement. As your own firm, and the companies you represent, consider where to lend financial support, we urge you to include organizations that promote the rule of law globally. And you can help by giving pro bono support to rule of law efforts in countries where your firm and clients operate. To learn more about the symposium, and the issues it is addressing, you can visit www.rolsymposium.org, which also has Webcasts of events from the two-day symposium. Michael S. Greco is the president of the American Bar Association. He is a partner in the Boston office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham.

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