Reinforcing the ethical culture in the legal profession through the “Estándar Ético de la Abogacía”

In a recent event organized by the Instituto Nacional de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales (INAI), I heard Jose Octavio Lopez Presa, President of the Comité Coordinador del Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción mentioned an interesting initiative that I was not aware of, which is addressed to lawyers and consists in publicly adhering to an ethics standard.

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Lopez Presa stressed that to combat unethical behaviors, including bribery and corruption, it is not enough with the efforts undergone by the government, but it is necessary to actively engage the society as well. In support of this goal, the Consejo General de la Abogacía, the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas de la UNAM and the Comité Coordinador del Sistema Nacional Anticorrupción launched earlier this year an online platform named “Abogacia Ética”, which objective is to invite Mexican lawyers to commit to behave ethically in the exercise of their profession by signing the Estándar Ético de la Abogacía.

The Estándar Ético de la Abogacía includes, among others, the following guidelines:

  1. Commit not to – directly or indirectly – participate or tolerate corruptive practices or facilitate or advise third parties on how to engage in illicit conducts or activities;
  2. Promote the ethical integrity of his/her colleagues, subordinates and public officials with whom the person interacts in the exercise of his/her profession, discouraging any unethical behavior;
  3. Timely communicate to the relevant persons and authorities, the existence of a potential conflict of interests, as promptly as you become aware of it
  4. Report to the competent authorities any behavior from a colleague that violates any of the guidelines contained in the Estándar Ético de la Abogacía or that represents an illicit.

Some questions came to mind as I was reading about this initiative:

1)  Why is it addressed to lawyers only?Well, apparently it is not. They decided to start with lawyers but the plan is to expand this initiative to other professions, including even to university students and faculty.

2)  What was the rationale behind the decision to start with lawyers? As a lawyer, one can be initially offended but, the truth is that reinforcing the ethical culture of lawyers is critical because, lawyers are supposed to be role models in this field. Our profession demands a high level of integrity, probity and transparency to legitimize our defense of the legality of the rights of our citizens. Unfortunately, one can argue that lawyers have contributed to our current levels of impunity, including through corruption practices, which is why public adherence to this Estándar Ético de la Abogacía may help.

3)  Will this initiative solve anything? Nobody expects it to resolve the problem, but is a positive step in the right direction. While it is true that similar ethics codes and standards already exist (mostly issued by lawyers’ associations), this is the first initiative to make it public and not limited to those who are members. However, the two weaknesses that I see that impact, in my view, the effectiveness of this initiative are:

(A) the lack of legal actions against adhered lawyers in the event of violations to the Estándar Ético de la Abogacía

(B) The limited adherence that has been achieved, considering its voluntary nature. Ironically, both weaknesses are intertwined, i.e.: by establishing legal actions in case of non-compliance, lawyers will be less motivated to seek adherence to it.

In sum, I believe that the release of the Estándar Ético de la Abogacía is a constructive initiative, moral and voluntary in nature, which effectiveness depends – in part – on the society. In fact, the society can support its effectiveness by

(i) favoring lawyers or firms who have adhered to the Estándar Ético de la Abogacía or, if a lawyer or firm has not adhered yet, subjecting them by contract to abide to the guidelines contained therein

(ii) viewing this initiative as a true, individual, moral commitment from lawyers and not just as a symbolic gesture of expected support from the legal community and, as a result, demanding full compliance with its content.

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