In April 2010, the International Bar Association (“IBA”), in cooperation with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”), launched the Anti-Corruption Strategy for the Legal Profession, a project which focuses on the role lawyers play in international corruption and on how international instruments and extraterritorial legislation apply to the legal practice.

This project is particularly important because the international regulatory framework—including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and UK Bribery Act—is gradually reducing the paths used to facilitate corruption.  As a result of increased corruption enforcement, individuals wishing to further their corrupt practices are slowly turning to legal professionals – some unsuspecting – to act as agents or intermediaries in their illicit transactions. 

The IBA recently conducted a global survey among legal professionals—answered by 642 lawyers from 95 countries—in order to identify the risks and threats of corruption that lawyers face in their practice around the world.  The results revealed that many lawyers still remain unaware of the implications that corruption can have on their profession.  For instance, almost 40 percent of respondents were not aware of any of the anti-corruption conventions that exist.  Approximately 40 percent did not appreciate the scope of the FCPA, and up to 70 percent stated that they were unfamiliar with the UK Bribery Act.

Latin American respondents were particularly attuned to the presence of corruption in their jurisdictions. Over 40 percent stated that they know members of the legal profession in their country that have engaged in international corrupt activities. Over 50 percent stated they had lost business to lawyers that are prepared to pay government officials on behalf of foreign companies, with real estate, energy and environment, and infrastructure the areas most vulnerable to corrupt activities.

As part of its Anti-Corruption Strategy, the IBA—in partnership with Mayer Brown—is conducting a series of global training sessions for senior partners in law firms that are actively involved in international business transactions.  The focus of the training sessions is to educate lawyers on the risks and threats that corruption poses to their profession and law firms.  Between September and November of this year, Mayer Brown and the IBA conducted training sessions in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru.  The Mayer Brown lawyers assisting with this project include Partners Lynn Neils and Thomas Durkin.