The International Bar Association (IBA) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are to establish a task force to develop professional conduct standards and practice guidance for lawyers involved in international commercial structures.
While the two organisations have a long history of working together on anticorruption efforts, the impetus for the new project was then British Prime Minister David Cameron's anti-corruption summit in London earlier this year, which was attended by IBA President David Rivkin and the OECD’s Director for Legal Affairs, Nicola Bonucci.
"The IBA and the OECD have long worked together on anti-corruption efforts. Nicola and I both attended PM Cameron's summit in May and decided together that another joint effort would be the best means to attack these issues," says Mr Rivkin.
The IBA says the release earlier this year of the so-called Panama Papers highlighted that, in completing legal transactions for their clients, lawyers may knowingly or unwittingly assist clients in asset concealment or money laundering.
International standards, such as the Recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), provide a framework for conducting due diligence on customers and identifying the beneficial owner.
However, countries' implementation of these standards has been variable. Since the scandal, many governments have called for greater transparency of such transactions, sometimes requiring reporting by lawyers. At the same time, lawyers are mindful of their professional obligations of confidence to their clients.
'It is undeniable that lawyers must play a central role in complex offshore financial transactions.” says Mr Rivkin.
“To ensure that they do not unwittingly facilitate economic crime, it is imperative that lawyers ask the right questions of their clients, vet them sufficiently, understand who are to be the ultimate beneficiaries of their client's actions, and have an understanding of sovereign laws.”
The project will be led by Martin Solc, who begins a two-year tenure as IBA President on 1 January. The Task Force will include lawyers and policy leaders from the IBA and the OECD.
The Task Force will include questions such as the legal profession's role in combatting corruption, tax evasion money-laundering and terrorism financing, and the steps lawyers should take in the event that acts or transactions previously legal become illegal as a result of a change of law.