Friday, November 21, 2014

Top Six Reasons to Cover the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in your Law School Class

On October 23, 2014, the International Bar Association issued the first ever Guidance for business lawyers and bar associations on the implementation of the United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Released in draft form, the IBA Guidance is the culmination of a six month drafting process.  The Guidance is divided into two working documents, one for bar associations (11 pages) and the other for business lawyers practising as in-house counsel and in law firms (60 pages). 

According to the IBA, the main aims of the Guidance for Bar Associations are to:

  • Encourage bar associations to improve the understanding of the relevance and applicability of business and human rights principles;
  • Urge bar associations to develop an overall strategy for integrating the Guiding Principles into the practice of law;
  • Provide information to heighten awareness of the implications of the Guiding Principles; and to
  • Serve as a training tool for current and future legal professionals.

For business lawyers the new Guidance:

  • Explores the ways in which the Guiding Principles may be relevant to the advice that business lawyers provide clients, consistent with their professional ethical responsibility as lawyers to uphold the law, to act in their clients’ best interests and to preserve client confidences;
  • Reviews potential implications of the Guiding Principles for law firms as business enterprises with their own responsibility to respect human rights, focusing on services rendered to clients; and  
  • Will assist the representation of the legal profession in the design of business and human rights policies before policy makers, governments and legislatures.

Here, then, are the top six reasons for incorporating this material into your law school teaching, especially in legal ethics, corporations, or courses on the legal profession.

First, this is new material, that students may not encounter unless you introduce it; it will likely not appear in your casebook;

Second, major businesses, particularly those with international business operations, are well-aware of these principles.  They will expect lawyers to be aware of them as well and to take these issues into account in crafting legal advice and advising on human rights issues;

Third, lawyers -- often through bar associations -- should be taking a leadership role in promoting corporate responsibility.  Law  teaching that acknowledges lawyers' role will set the stage for that leadership;

Fourth, for lawyers, the Guidance supports not just good advice, but good ethical advice, that acknowledges the role of lawyers in promoting larger community needs as well as their individual client's goals;

Fifth, students will enjoy covering this material, which dovetails nicely with the social change goals that draw many folks go to law school; and 

Sixth, we "make the road by walking," and teaching this material will inevitably strengthen it and expand the dialogue about business, human rights and the law, as well as encouraging greater attention from U.S.-based law firms and bar associations.

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