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The Legal Profession’s Contribution To The Global Fight Against Corruption

Note:  Professor Juliet Sorensen (Northwestern University School of Law) and Northwestern Law students Akane Tsuruta and Jessica Dwinell are attending the Fifth Conference of the State Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption in Panama City, Panama.  See here for a live feed of the States Parties’ discussions.

This post regarding the proceedings is by Jessica Dwinell.


Politicians with legal training routinely participate in state reporting procedures and legislation drafting. Yet, the question remains, how can practicing attorneys join in the anti-corruption efforts? Yesterday at the CoSP, members of international and national bar associations, the OECD, the UNODC and the Brazilian Institute of Business Law discussed how practicing attorneys could influence countries’ anti-corruption efforts.

Practicing attorneys can assist anti-corruption efforts in three main ways: by revising and/or drafting legislative anti-corruption laws, by participating in either OECD on-site visits or during the UNCAC review process, and by serving, more or less, as an enforcement arm of the government.

In the legislative drafting context, the value of practitioners’ insight is obvious. Practitioners work daily with corporate clients, often in transnational situations, and thus understand the business realities and likely consequences of proposed laws both on domestic and foreign business. Though the politician may be well-versed in how to draft legislation, the practicing attorney will better understand the law’s practical implications.

In regards to practitioners’ participation in the UNCAC review processes, Annika Wythes (Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Officer of the UNODC) stressed that attorneys are invaluable objective participants, able to assess strengths and weakness of national legislation and can highlight enforcement weaknesses.

Although it may appear counter-intuitive that private attorneys could serve as a “leveraged enforcement tool of the government,” the panelists often spoke of the attorney’s ability to teach clients how to comply with anti-corruption laws. By reducing resistance from the business community and ensuring compliance with new anti-corruption bills, private attorneys can effectively save governments the resources traditionally needed to investigate and prosecute corruption cases.

Governments may not universally seek assistance from private practice attorneys to draft legislation or complete anti-corruption review processes. Nevertheless, attorneys who want to participate in anti-corruption efforts should reach out to government personnel to see how they can assist and, if necessary, send written submissions to the OECD during their countries’ review process. The OECD, UNODC and most countries to date would welcome their participation and view attorneys’ insights into business realities and objective assessments of enforcement gaps as invaluable.

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