PRESIDENT’S JOURNAL: President Zack and Section of International Law Raise the Bar in Russia
“Russia is going to be a major part of the future global practice of law. I think the more bridges we can build now, the more likely it will be in the future that we will be able to work together and to establish an international code of ethics.”
That’s how American Bar Association President Stephen N. Zack described the importance of his recent visit to Russia, and meetings with top members of the ministry of justice and leaders of two the country’s bar organizations in Moscow. Zack promised his hosts ABA support for reform of the Russian justice system and noted that the needs of the Russian legal community mirror the association’s founding goals of developing a code of ethics for lawyers and improving legal education.
Zack‘s meeting with Russian bar leaders and officials was part of a one-day conference organized by the ABA Section of International Law. In addition to discussions on reforms, the conference featured a world-class faculty, evenly divided between Russian and non-Russian panelists, who examined hot topics, including practical issues relating to the resolution of disputes, and tactics for fighting the phenomenon of corporate “raiding” in Russia, where shady court processes are misused to effectively steal a company from its rightful owners.
The ABA began its engagement with Russia in 1986 when an ABA delegation met with the Association of Soviet Lawyers. Four years later, the ABA organized a conference in Moscow that was attended by more than 2,000 American and Soviet lawyers. After that meeting, in 1992, the Central and East European Law Initiative was established. Now part of the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, the program has a staff of eight lawyers in Moscow who have been involved in a host of projects, including the reintroduction of jury trials in capital cases and training programs for justices of the peace.
During his trip, Zack learned first-hand that while the nature of lawyering in Russia may have changed radically in the past two decades, the Russian justice system still faces significant challenges to the rule of law. Despite the fact that thousands of Russian lawyers practice commercial law at a level of sophistication rivaling that of other international business centers, the regulation of lawyers in Russia is virtually non-existent. Of the estimated 750,000 individuals practicing law in Russia, only about 60,000 are licensed as “advocates.”
“Our legal system has a lot of advantages over those in other parts of the world where anybody can go into court and lack of experience and knowledge could do more harm than good,” said Zack. “While it would be counterproductive to assume that our way is the only way, we believe that bar associations in every country are very important to the success of the legal profession worldwide”
Visits to the United States by delegations from Russia’s Ministry of Justice and by representatives from Russia’s two national bar associations are in the planning stages, as is a return visit for Zack. He has been invited to address the Russian Supreme Court, which is a very rare honor for any foreign bar leader.