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ARCHIVED New Opportunities for Young Lawyers Working in a Global Environment

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Speech to the International Association of Young Lawyers
by Chief Justice John D. Richard
of the Federal Court of Appeal
On Wednesday, August 22, 2007
in Toronto, Canada


Thank you very much for the welcome: it is my great pleasure to be here today and to have the opportunity of addressing you.

I will address the new opportunities that you have in today’s global environment without attempting to define all of its characteristics.  Globalisation encompasses all of the economic, political and social aspects of societies. However, these uniting characteristics of “sameness” do not necessarily mean uniformity in legal systems and conflict resolution mechanisms or assimilation of cultures, customs and languages. As a result, you as young lawyers in this global environment must be prepared to deal with diversity as well as sameness. As I will also suggest, it offers you an opportunity to have a positive influence on future developments.

It is an understatement to suggest that the legal profession has been undergoing profound changes in recent years due to globalisation.  Globalisation as an “economic system” is firmly entrenched and members of the legal profession must adapt to the many changes that are occurring. This does not mean, however, that they are passive actors and cannot positively influence some aspects of globalisation by seeking to balance corporate performance and social responsibility.

This conference is a great opportunity for you to become familiar with important and novel substantive legal issues in the global arena.  However, in my remarks, I would like to reflect on various issues that arise when globalisation intersects with the legal profession and, as well, the manner in which young lawyers who work in a global environment can respond to this convergence and positively influence the way in which our world changes.  In my view, there are countless opportunities to positively impact the international environment for the benefit of all people.     

Global Perspective

There is a widespread public debate concerning the social, political and economic effects of globalisation.  On the one hand, superpower economies have significant influence on the international markets. These countries spawn very powerful multinational companies. Many research studies reveal a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few hundred corporations, the grand majority of which originate from countries with strong economies, I quote from prominent academics Errol Mendes and Ozay Mehmet’s recent publication on global governance;

…in 1996 the top 200 of the approximately 40, 000 global firms have a huge share of the global activity.  Most of these 200 firms are economically more significant than many developing counties, and control over a quarter of the world’s economies.  Wal-Mart, as the twelfth largest corporation in 1995, could be regarded as having a larger “economy” than 161 national economies, including Israel, Poland, and Greece.

As commented by Mendes and Mehmet, “the global private sector does have the power to profoundly corrupt the global political, social, economic, and ecological environments if it chooses to do so, or is negligent or reckless as to whether it does so.”

Global leaders of all walks of life have addressed globalisation and its effects on humanity. For example, Pope Benedict XVI has praised the phenomenon of globalisation as a sign of people’s “profound aspiration towards unity” but warned that “it also undoubtedly brings with it the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value.”

Concerning the inter-relatedness of global citizens through their national economies, food production methods and virtually every other thread that links humans of the world, the prominent Canadian scholar Thomas Homer-Dixon recently commented, on the possible negative effects of unbridled globalisation, I quote:  

“In the last half-century, largely because of the enormous growth and relentless integration of the world’s economy, humankind and the natural environment it exploits have evolved into a single socio-ecological system that encompasses the planet.  This system has become steadily more connected and economically efficient.  As a result, a financial crisis, a terrorist attack, or a disease outbreak can now have almost instantaneous destabilizing effects from one side of the world to the other.”

I believe lawyers have a crucial role to play in this rapidly changing global environment.  As lawyers working within the global environment and many of you within global corporations, especially those established in strong nations, you are in a privileged position.  You have the challenge and the advantage of working closely with business and industry leaders around the globe and possess the knowledge, tools and influence to help shape the application of global business ethics. 

The United Nations Millennium Declaration, which, as you know, is a unanimous resolution, was adopted by the General Assembly on September 8, 2000.  I would like to highlight the following values and principles set out in the Declaration:    

    2.   We recognize that, in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.

    5.   We believe that the central challenge we face today is to ensure that globalisation becomes a positive force for all the world’s people. […] Thus, only through broad and sustained efforts to create a shared future, based upon our common humanity in all its diversity, can globalization be made fully inclusive and equitable.

    11.  …We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.

    24.       We will spare no effort to promote democracy and strengthen the rule of law, as well as respect for all internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development.

In an address to the World Economic Forum on January 31, 1999, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, challenged business leaders to join an United-Nations led international initiative – the Global Compact – that would bring companies together with UN agencies, labour and civil society to support universal environmental and social principles.  The Global Compact seeks to promote responsible corporate citizenship so that business can be part of the solution to the challenges of globalisation.  He also warned the participating countries that rapidly expanding global markets outpaces the ability of societies and their political systems to adjust to them. 

Today, thousands of corporations from all areas of the world, as well as international labour and civil society organizations are engaged in this global initiative seeking to advance ten universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption.

Adherents to the Global Compact have committed to embrace, support and enact, within their sphere of influence the following Ten Principles, which fall under four distinct headings;
First, under the rubric of Human Rights:

  • Principle 1: Businesses should support and respect the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights; and
  • Principle 2: make sure that they are not complicit in human rights abuses.

Second, in the area of Labour Standards:

  • Principle 3: Businesses should uphold the freedom of association and the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining;
  • Principle 4: the elimination of all forms of forced and compulsory labour;
  • Principle 5: the effective abolition of child labour; and
  • Principle 6: the elimination of discrimination in respect of employment and occupation.

Third, in the very important area concerning the Environment,

  • Principle 7: Businesses should support a precautionary approach to environmental challenges;
  • Principle 8: undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility; and
  • Principle 9: encourage the development and diffusion of environmentally friendly technologies.

Finally, Anti-Corruption is also considered;

  • Principle 10: Businesses should work against corruption in all its forms including extortion and bribery.

In his closing remarks at the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit on July 6, 2007, the new Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on business leaders “to convene board meetings to share developments at the Summit, and ensure that the Global Compact is implemented more fully within their organizations and through their suppliers and partners.”

As lawyers, you can promote these universal principles within the organizations for which you work.  I encourage you to initiate the debate, to share documentation and encourage discussion on how these principles and these goals can be achieved. Information is readily available on the Global Compact web site.

You can uphold human rights and just labour and environmental standards through your own work in providing legal and policy advice. 

The challenge to find the means to reach these objectives does not, of course, only fall on your generation. I will not, as Al Gore recently penned in his book The Inconvenient Truth, send you on a “generational mission”. However, your generation and your position of leadership and privilege as a jurist offer you a golden opportunity to help make a great difference and to meet a real global challenge. You can have a positive influence in alleviating poverty and ensuring respect for human dignity and the environment.

Professional Perspective

Professional Conduct- The responsibilities of many young jurists

Working in a global environment also presents unique challenges on a professional level.  You will be faced with issues arising out of significant competing interests such as access to information v. privacy, corporate interests v. individual interests and the assertion of monopolies through restrictions on disclosure, the proliferation of non competitive clauses with their consequent limitations on freedom of expression and mobility. Corporate interests are not limitless and attempts to impose unnecessary legal restrictions on competition should not be tolerated. Instead, a careful consideration and delicate balancing of corporate interests and individual interests must be achieved.  This is where you also have a distinct role to play.

Working in a global environment, many of you will have the opportunity to practice law in Canada as well as in other countries. Many of you already have. You will need to be familiar with and respect other legal systems, including the common law and civil law systems and the many intricacies that result from the convergence of laws, customs and culture. 

You will need to be familiar with the international legal duties of the global private sector. Lawyers advising corporate clients have a role in preventing corporate misconduct and in protecting the public.    As the prominent academic Errol Mendes pointes out, “such crimes should not only be viewed as commercial or white-collar crimes, but should be regarded as a cancer of the International Bill of Rights, profoundly affecting both the civil and political rights and the economic, social, and cultural rights of billions around the world.”

International Law and the Rule of Law

International law and the institutions that are its keepers (i.e. the United Nations, the World Trade Organization etc.) exist for a reason; to create a world system of checks and balances in order to ensure that all countries have an equal chance to compete in the global arena. Its very existence depends on adherence to its rules.

As such, you will also need to be aware of the importance of international law and international treaties to competently fulfill your professional responsibilities in the global private sector.  These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Labour Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. The Supreme Court of Canada has held that, in seeking the meaning of the Canadian Constitution, the courts may be informed by international law.  In its own words, “Our concern is not with Canada’s international obligation qua obligations; rather, our concern is with the principles of fundamental justice.  We look to international law as evidence of these principles and not as controlling in itself”. (Suresh v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3). The importance of international law within a country’s domestic sphere must not be overlooked.


In this era of globalised law practice and increased mobility between jurisdictions, it becomes even more important to promote rules of professional conduct.  Ethics should be at the forefront of your practice. The legal profession will only continue to be self-regulated and maintain its independence from the executive and legislative branches of government if the public believe that lawyers are acting in the best interest of all citizens of society.  In order to succeed in maintaining the public’s trust and in reflecting the profession’s commitment to integrity, lawyers must abide by ethical uprightness.

Legal ethics requires the development of critical and reflective judgment regarding the professional roles and responsibilities of lawyers.  This is especially so in respect of new issues and questions raised by the influence those technological developments are having on the delivery of legal services.  

It is essential that lawyers exercise their functions competently in “loyalty, good faith and avoidance of a conflict of duty and self-interest.”  This good faith must also be exhibited in working relationships between lawyers.  Furthermore, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of being aware of local custom and the culture of the colleagues you will be working with.

You must also be at the cutting edge of new developments.  You will build a strong career and impact the profession if you take hold of the many opportunities to exemplify inventiveness and resourcefulness in finding solutions to your clients’ legal questions. 

Access to Justice – An important issue at the national level and the international level

Access to justice for all is a pressing problem, and one that must be continuously addressed.

As the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Madame Justice Beverly McLaughlin, recently stated at a recent Canadian Bar Association meeting, access to justice is a basic right, just as education or health care are considered to be. She also issued an urgent call to action to governments, lawyers and judges to find solutions to the access-to-justice “crisis” jeopardizing the country's legal system, which has now become too expensive and complicated for the vast majority of Canadians. This is a pressing problem in which we all play a role in finding the solution.

Independence of the Judiciary and the Rule of Law

Remember to protect the independence of the Bar.  In a unanimous 1982 judgment of the Supreme Court of Canada,1 Estey J. stated that the independence of the bar from the State is one of the hallmarks of a free society as it delivers services to the individual citizen in the State and aims to protect fundamental values contained in the Constitution.  These fundamental values include natural justice, equality and democracy.  Without independent legal advice and advocacy, the integrity and stability of the legal system would be in peril.

You must also promote an independent judiciary. The primary beneficiary of judicial independence is not the judiciary itself, but rather society as a whole.  The reality is that the rule of law cannot endure over time or exist at all, unless the judges who are responsible for interpreting and applying the law and the Constitution are guaranteed their independence from government.  The three core characteristics of judicial independence are (1) security of tenure, (2) financial security and (3) administrative independence.

You must strive to achieve and maintain these three essential characteristics of the judiciary throughout the world. In a country lacking an independent judiciary, the rule of law has no hope of being maintained. As the Roman philosopher Cicero said, “We are in bondage to the law so that we might be free”.

New Technologies and the Information Society

I urge you not to sacrifice quality of work and ethical duties for expediency and rapidity.  Technology has given us flexibility but also has produced overload.  While you are no longer obliged to stay in an office to address the concerns and needs of your clients, advances in technology have spawned an “on demand” society.  Clients expect around the clock service.  I urge you to take the time needed to think through issues and to carry out the necessary research in order to provide competent legal advice and services. Maintain a healthy balance between your work and your private life.

I encourage you, above all, to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and social activities. Too often I hear stories of young lawyers consumed by the stress, self-imposed or not, of extravagant long work weeks and too little personal time.  It is crucial for all of us to sustain a healthy lifestyle and strong ties with our families and friends.

As young lawyers, you are embarking upon a challenging and, I hope, rewarding career.  You can be proud to be a member of a profession whose purpose is to serve others – but it is only the beginning of a lifelong commitment to excellence and service.  Having pride in one’s legal career develops professionalism and in embracing professionalism, lawyers will always build on their skill and on their respect and appreciation for the community which they serve. 

When all is said and done, your most important asset is your reputation.  Your first goal as young practitioners should be to develop and maintain that reputation.


As you participate in the various working sessions over the next few days, I encourage you to reflect on the important role you play within the global community.  I challenge you to think of ways to reduce the imbalances between the rapidly expanding global markets and societal objectives. Be mindful of international instruments that set out universal values, especially the dignity of all humans. Take the initiative in your organizations to propagate valuable information regarding equitable business practices. Be creative in finding solutions to your clients’ legal needs.

Thank you very much.

1 Canada (Attorney General) v. Law Society (British Columbia), [1982] 2 S.C.R. 307.