Paul L. Caron

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Harvard, Yale, And Stanford Law Students And Faculty Pressure U.S. Law Firms To Cut Ties With Russian Clients

Following up on my previous post, Harvard 2L Walks Away From Summer Associate Job In NYC To Protest Law Firm's Work In Russia; Other Offers Come Pouring In:, Harvard Law 2L Who Gave Up Summer Associate Job Launches New Effort Urging Law Firms to Cut Ties With Russian Clients:

Ryan Donahue, a 2L at Harvard Law School, made headlines earlier this month when he walked away from a summer associate position at a large New York City law firm in protest of the firm’s work in Russia.

Since then, Donahue began working with a group of students from Harvard, Yale and Stanford ... to continue to pressure law firms to cut ties with Russian clients, he told on Monday. “We went live with a petition [United Against Law Firm Complicity in Russia’s War] for law school students on March 14."

Ian Ayres (Yale), Robert Daines (Stanford) & John Coates (Harvard), Law Firms and Russian Profits:

Since Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, hundreds of the world’s leading companies (from investment banks to consumer goods) have shuttered their Russian operations and undone decades of investments in a matter of days. These firms are incurring large costs and taking real risks to avoid aiding the Russian war effort.

Law firms have been slower to respond.

Firms have finally closed their Russian offices, but this is a modest and possibly misleading first step.  When McDonald’s shuts its doors in Moscow, it does not mail burgers from London. By contrast, law firms can and do serve Russian interests from afar; if nothing else, COVID has taught us the possibilities of remote work. The point is not where service professionals work, but whether they’re helping to strengthen the Russian economy.

Some law firms are splitting hairs about which clients they will avoid. Some firms say they will no longer represent clients with “known ties to Russia’s war effort” or that “don’t share our values,” leaving plenty of room for serving the interests of Putin’s supporters.

Many other firms—particularly those without Russian offices—have not yet spoken about the topic. Some firms may have no Russian clients, but many work on matters that benefit or finance Russian corporate investments.

We believe democracy-loving firms will do more. Therefore, faculty and research staff from Harvard, Stanford and Yale Law Schools will track the AmLaw 100 firms and UK100 firms to see which have publicly committed not to profit from work that props up the Russian war effort.

Surprisingly, only a few U.S. law firms have yet committed to exit Russia entirely and/or decline new work from any Russian-based clients – something most of these commercial firms, each of the Big 4 accounting firms, consulting firms and every single consumer-facing firm that suspended operations in Russia (like VISA/MasterCard) have effectively agreed to; these other firms all refuse to profit from any Russian-based clients (rather than just those that are sanctioned or state-owned).

We expect this will change.  While some lawyers have always prided themselves on defending all against criminal punishment, many types of legal practice are not very different from accounting – transactional practice, for example. Defending Nuremberg defendants is one thing, but helping Volkswagen borrow money or I.G. Farben expand globally during or in the lead up to WWII is another.

Below is a list of the AmLaw 100 firms that have pledged to:

  1. decline any new work for clients based in Russia;
  2. withdraw from any current such engagements unless prohibited by legal ethics or courts (other than work defending against Russian prosecution or civil suits).

Law360, Law Schools Launch Effort To Track Firms' Russia Pledges

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