Transnational Business Deals and the Professional Obligations of Lawyers

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Susan Rose-Ackerman, Henry R. Luce Professor of Law and Political Science, Emeritus, Yale University, and Professorial Lecturer, Yale Law School.

Professional codes of ethics regulate lawyers’ conduct and prioritize loyalty to their clients’ legitimate interests. Clearly, effective legal representation is an essential aspect of every attorney’s responsibility. However, this essay goes further and asks if it is sufficient in one important class of cases—legal assistance in the negotiation and implementation of transnational business deals. This essay argues that, at least for such transactions, legal professionals have ethical obligations that extend beyond the interests of their principals and should include recognition of broader social, environmental, and human rights concerns. But if legal professionals accept that claim, how can such obligations be articulated and enforced without undermining attorneys’ primary obligations to their clients? This essay makes a preliminary attempt to frame an answer.

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