Role of Lawyers and the Legal Profession in Business and Human Rights

21 Pages Posted: 31 May 2023 Last revised: 9 Jan 2024

Date Written: January 7, 2024

Abstract

Lawyers and their law firms are engaged in a wide range of business activities on a day-to-day basis as they provide services and advice to their clients, employ personnel to assist them in their assignments, and purchase goods and services from a variety of vendors. It has always been clear that lawyers are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that aligns with applicable professional codes of conduct and ethics, including obligations to promote justice and prevent injustice. However, law firms, like all other businesses, must also accept and meet responsibilities to respect human rights as provided in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The International Bar Association (“IBA”) has adopted guidelines on business and human rights for lawyers and law firms based on the Guiding Principles, and the American Bar Association has endorsed the Guiding Principles and acknowledged that they apply to the professional responsibility of lawyers. Other national and local bar associations have publicly endorsed the Guiding Principles and issued guidance to their members on assisting their clients.

The legal profession is much maligned in the business community and in society in general, and many lawyers complain of deep dissatisfaction with their choice of career and the day-to-day tasks associated with their roles in the legal system. Proactively participating in environmental and social responsibility initiatives, either as individual lawyers, as law firm team members, or by assisting clients, is a real opportunity for attorneys to change their lives and the communities in which they practice in a positive and impactful manner. Many attorneys entered law school with the goal of acquiring the tools necessary to help those who needed support from others and, in some small way, to “change the world.” For those who may have lost their way, for whatever reason, or are looking for ways to do more, embracing counseling of businesses on their duties to respect human rights is a welcome and promising platform.

Keywords: business, human rights, lawyers, professional responsibility

Suggested Citation

Gutterman, Alan, Role of Lawyers and the Legal Profession in Business and Human Rights (January 7, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4450479 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4450479

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