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In his 1916 work The Law: Business or Profession?, Julius Henry Cohen describes an American legal system in which uniform standards for regulating, disciplining, and educating the profession are just beginning to be developed, albeit unevenly. In discussing the differences between a business and a profession, he argues that a profession requires a uniform set of standards to guide it in matters of ethics, as well as a system of rigorous legal education that includes a firm grounding in these ethical principles.

Perhaps most surprising for a book written in the early twentieth century – long before the study of comparative law and "globalization" became a central focus of legal education and practice in the United States – Cohen devotes three full chapters to a historical discussion of and comparison among the legal systems of China, Japan, ancient Greece and Rome, France, Spain, Italy, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and England. Cohen focuses in particular on Russia, writing for twelve pages about the long history of that country's legal professions. He expresses optimism about the developments he sees unfolding at the time of his book, but he also notes some important reservations.

In this essay, I use Cohen's work as a starting point for an examination of some of the professional responsibility issues facing the Russian legal professions today. The essay draws upon my experience at a legal ethics conference in Moscow in November 2011. I participated in the four-day "Professional Responsibility and Legal Ethics School" as a Rule of Law Fellow for the Paul Klebnikov Fund. The class involved thirty students from several Russian universities and covered a variety of professional responsibility topics, including formation of the attorney-client relationship, confidentiality, conflict of interest, issues facing in-house counsel, and the tensions between the roles of officer of the court and advocate. Participating students were selected through a competitive essay contest.

The conference was a collaboration among Moscow State University, a human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) (PILnet), two law firms (DLA Piper and White & Case), and two corporations (Verizon and Microsoft). In addition to its involvement in this conference, White & Case teaches several classes at Russian universities, including a legal skills class which involves an ethics component. The role of the private sector in ethics education in Russia challenges the conventional notion of a business-profession dichotomy. In effect, the private sector is actively engaged in helping to develop higher professional standards for lawyers.


Business Organizations Law | Law | Legal Education | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession


This article was initially published in Volume 40 of the Fordham Urban Law Journal and is republished with permission.