A blistering piece in the FT this morning by Cat Rutter Pooley (paywalled) – City lawyers cannot hide behind the law over Russian clients – on the dilemma for law firms.
And a very clear message that this should not be a dilemma,
But mealy-mouthed statements should not be allowed to provide cover for a lack of real action. Firms do not need to shout about dropping Russian clients. It nonetheless needs to be clear that they will not carry on as they were before Russia invaded Ukraine.
Lawyers always profit in bad times. You’d be naive to think otherwise.
Nonetheless, how they do it is what really matters. And how we will judge them.
I was very struck by a comment, reported in today’s FT (paywalled), by Vladimir Ashurkov, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, set up by Alexei Navalny,
[M]y experience in international finance has taught me not to expect moral-based decisions by professional services firms.
What are the City professional services firms with links to Russia going to do? What are their internal ethics advisers telling their management boards? What are the pressures they will feel from clients, their staff, their alumni, if they aren’t already? Are they ready to walk away? Are they already looking for the right weasel words?
Who knows? I don’t – but do they?
20 years ago Bill Knight, who had just stepped down as Senior Partner at Simmons & Simmons, wrote an article for PLC titled Practical morality for lawyers. It is still available if you have a subscription. He referenced the then recent financial scandals – Enron, Anderson, Tyco, Worldcom etc. Remember them?
It’s a short article. It is also as applicable today as it was then, possibly more so. It ends with a clear and simple message,
Don’t let anyone tell you that you are not the guardian of morality. We all are. If not, who? Politicians? Now I really feel safe.
Normally it is the pretender to the crown who pledges loyalty – but then perhaps the Prime Minister simply needs to reassure himself that all is well.
I wouldn’t be too sure.