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Delos N. Lutton, Union Internationale des Avocats, Re:UIA Standards for International Legal Practice - Center for Professional Responsibility

March 13, 2002

American Bar Association Commission
on Multijurisdictional Practice

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Re: UIA Standards for International Legal Practice

I send this letter in the hope of making a small contribution to the work of the ABA's Commission on Multijurisdictional Practice. I write on behalf of the Union Internationale des Avocats, the world's oldest international association of bars, bar associations and law societies, founded in Belgium in 1927. The UIA is a global bar association welcoming lawyers of all cultures and all languages. Through its approximately 300 collective members in 100 countries, the UIA could be viewed as the most representative legal organization in the world. I serve as Senior Vice President of the UIA, and also as President of its Committee on International Legal Practice.

Immediately after the UIA adopted its Minimum Standards for Multidisciplinary Practice (discussed further below) at its General Assembly in 1999, it established a Committee on International Legal Practice to address three concerns:

  • That a hodge-podge patchwork of different rules on lawyers establishing a practice outside their home country was inefficient and created the risk of inadvertent violations of ethical requirements, not to speak of local frustration at what were viewed as unwarranted incursions by foreign law firms.
  • That the needs of clients and society as a whole might not receive proper attention in the context of World Trade Organization negotiations over trade in legal services, currently taking place.
  • That the liberalization of rules for cross-border practice would be used as a Trojan horse to permit the even more rapid expansion of multidisciplinary practices from countries where such practices are legal.

Since 1999, the committee which I have had the honor to lead has prepared recommended standards for a lawyer establishing a practice outside his or her home country, and the most recent version of these recommended standards was approved for public circulation and comment by the UIA's Governing Board in August 2001.

Attached for your consideration and information are these proposed UIA Standards on international legal practice. These standards focus on the establishment of a practice outside the lawyer's home country, and do not purport to address, on an international scale, the other significant problems of in-house counsel providing services to their employers and the provision of services on a transitory basis by lawyers temporarily visiting outside their home jurisdiction. While these latter problems are significant and important, the UIA decided to address first the even more significant problem of law firms or individuals establishing themselves somewhat permanently in a foreign country.

It would be no more possible to summarize the UIA's proposed Standards than it would be to summarize your outstanding proposals as presented in your Interim Report. I hope you will have an opportunity to review the UIA standards, which are the first comprehensive regulatory approach suggested by the international bar. Given that the UIA proposed standards have been approved for public circulation and comment but have not been adopted by the UIA's General Assembly, this amounts to our own interim report. We have taken a keen interest in the ABA's work on the multijurisdictional issue. Perhaps you will be able to profit from some of our work and we from yours.

The UIA's approach has both the advantage and the disadvantage that it is necessarily general – it must be applied in many different cultures and in many different legal systems. Accordingly, the UIA's Standards emphasize, from a client-centric standpoint, the most important aspects of law practice which must be maintained and nurtured in the context of regulating the practice of foreign lawyers in a given host country. The details will have to be developed, or "harmonized," on a country-by-country basis.

Finally, I would like to note two related issues for your consideration. First, as an American lawyer it surprises me that so little attention has been paid by the organized U.S. bar to the existence of trade negotiations over trade in legal services within the context of the World Trade Organization. These multilateral negotiations, currently underway in the accounting sector, the legal sector and other service sectors, are led in the case of the United States by the U.S. Trade Representative and his staff. The eventual form and content of commitments for the reduction of barriers to trade in legal services made by other countries and by the United States will have an enormous influence on the ultimate form of permissible regulation of cross-border legal practice in the United States. I hope that, as part of your deliberations, you will recommend an approach to multijurisdictional practice within and outside the United States which is internationally acceptable and takes into account the legitimate concerns of the organized bar in other countries as well as our own. In that context, perhaps it would be appropriate to ensure that the Commission's work is brought to the attention of those national negotiators who would profit from a knowledge of the difficulties your Commission has faced in proposing a workable multijurisdictional practice model, even for bars so closely aligned as those of the various states of the United States.

Second, I note that the UIA's proposed standards for the establishment of a legal practice outside the lawyer's home country necessarily refers to the UIA's previously adopted Minimum Standards for Multidisciplinary Practice. This is because, in the UIA's client-centric approach, the protection of the client's interests by appropriate regulation of multijurisdictional practice is not complete without compliance with minimum standards for multidisciplinary practice, since in many countries multidisciplinary practice is legal. Accordingly, I have enclosed a copy of the UIA's 1999 Minimum Standards for MDP for your complete information.

Thank you for the opportunity to communicate with the Commission on this important subject.


Delos N. Lutton
First Vice President,
Union Internationale des Avocats