Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
With the resources and knowledge we have today, why are so many communities afflicted by violence, poverty, corruption, sickness and ignorance � in short, injustice? Why, in our own nation, are defendants subject to the death penalty without access to qualified legal counsel to defend their rights in court? Why, in other countries, are lawyers arrested for representing dissidents or judges dismissed by the executive branch for unpopular decisions? The answer in each case concerns the rule of law � or, more precisely, its absence. The rule of law is the foundation for all thriving societies, and it is what gives traction to efforts to address the world’s most deep-rooted problems. Without the rule of law, communities are vulnerable to violence, poverty, corruption, sickness and ignorance � indeed, they probably are doomed to remain that way. In the coming year, my chief focus as American Bar Association president will be to organize a multidisciplinary movement to advance the rule of law � in the United States and internationally � through the World Justice Project. Rule-of-law efforts have played a growing role at the ABA since 1990, when the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative began offering technical legal assistance to nations emerging from the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the ABA works with local partners to train lawyers and judges in more than 40 nations. Other disciplines have promoted facets of the rule of law, or seen their efforts undermined by its absence. Human rights groups have called attention to violations by lawless governments, but often have little leverage to halt injustices. Business organizations promote investment in poorer nations, only to be thwarted by corruption, inhumane labor practices and courts that don’t properly enforce contracts. Perhaps most tragically, attempts to deliver food and medicine to the world’s poorest nations often are lost forever in a maze of black markets. All disciplines have learned that if we are to attain our individual visions, we must work together to lay our common foundation: the rule of law. No one discipline can build the rule of law alone. Such united effort is the difference between comprehensive, steady progress and spinning our wheels through scattered effort. The World Justice Project will unite the many professions and disciplines that depend directly on advancing the rule of law. Through education and discussion, the project will work to make the rule of law a mainstream concept, as central to engineers, environmentalists and journalists as it is to lawyers. Already, the project has gained important support in the international legal community. The International Bar Association, the Union Internationale des Avocats, the Inter-American Bar Association and the Inter-Pacific Bar Association have joined the ABA in co-sponsoring the project. We are honored to have three former secretaries of state � Madeleine Albright, James A. Baker III and Warren Christopher � as well as two current and one former justice of the U.S. Supreme Court � Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor � among the project’s honorary co-chairs. And we have already begun the process of expanding this discussion about the rule of law to numerous disciplines. In February, a meeting in Washington brought together more than 90 U.S. leaders from such fields as education, engineering, environment, labor, media, military, public health and religion. A second meeting was held in Prague, Czech Republic, in July. All participants agreed that expanding the rule of law is essential to the success of their work. We expect that these and future efforts will lead to formal partnerships. What is the rule of law and, just as importantly, what can be done to advance it at the ground level? “Rule of law” has been defined in many ways over the years, often by pundits and talking heads who have diluted the meaning of the term. The World Justice Project describes the following principles as the basis for the rule of law: nA system of self-government in which all persons and entities, including the government, are accountable under the law. nA system based on fair, publicized, broadly understood and stable laws. nA robust and accessible process in which rights and responsibilities based in law are enforced impartially. nDiverse, competent, independent and ethical lawyers and judges. It is self-evident to many lawyers how these principles should interact in any society of opportunity and equity. The rule of law is the foundation for everything that lawyers do from Cairo, Ill., to Cairo, Egypt. What is less understood is why these conditions are so critical to providing the necessary traction to make people safe, create prosperity and boost public health. The project is attempting to address this knowledge gap. As one of four core components, a team of scholars including Nobel economists James Heckman and Amartya Sen will analyze how the rule of law affects efforts to address the world’s gravest problems. The project is developing a rule-of-law index to assess how well different countries are adhering to the rule of law. The index, which is still being developed, will be tested in two stages, in a total of 10 countries, including the United States. The year will culminate with a World Justice Forum, scheduled for July 2008 in Vienna, Austria. This international, multidisciplinary “town square” will enable top theorists and practitioners to share information, build new networks, create new tools and incubate new programs. Encouraging development It is encouraging to report that even in our own country, a multidisciplinary approach has already paid dividends on rule-of-law issues. As recently as last year, a ballot initiative called “J.A.I.L. 4 Judges” threatened South Dakota’s court system, because it would have exposed judges to lawsuits and even jail for decisions made in court. Instead of fighting this insidious initiative on its own, the state bar formed partnerships with civic groups and the business community, pointing out that they had a stake in protecting a stable, impartial and reliable court system. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure. Similarly, access-to-justice commissions are creating innovative partnerships at the state level to make legal assistance more readily available to low-income Americans. Similar coalitions can bring pressure nationally and overseas to fight against injustice, while deepening the commitment of all sectors to the rule of law. Expanding the rule of law is a generational challenge that we can ignore no longer. It is time to issue a call to action. With humility and curiosity, let’s reach to other fields of endeavor. Step by step, partnership by partnership, country by country, let’s cement the rule of law as the basis for establishing communities of opportunity and equity. William H. Neukom is president-elect of the American Bar Association. He is a partner in the Seattle office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis, and former lead counsel for Microsoft Corp.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 1 article* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.