Lawyers must pull together to safeguard the rule of law, says ABA president

Deborah Enix-Ross stresses need for neutrality in a keynote speech at London International Disputes Week’s flagship conference

Deborah Enix-Ross

Lawyers must embrace civics, civility and collaboration to ensure the rule of law is upheld, American Bar Association (ABA) president and Debevoise & Plimpton senior advisor Deborah Enix-Ross said in a wide-ranging address at London International Disputes Week on Tuesday.

Quoting Justice Anthony Kennedy’s maxim that the rule of law is a promise of neutrality, she said that notion is being challenged in the US and elsewhere.

“The times in which we now find ourselves make this call to action perhaps more critical than ever in our lifetimes,” said Enix-Ross.

Her audience, she said, is part of that conversation: “As arbitration practitioners, we can promote free, fair and peaceful dispute resolution mechanisms to uphold justice and freedom,” before detailing the ABA’s extensive work in these fields, both internationally and elsewhere, and also institutionally.

“Alongside our promotion globally of arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution, the ABA is committed to improving our work in this field”, she said, stressing the support given to the World Justice Project, which she noted, “calls for justice provided by competent, independent and ethical adjudicators, lawyers and judicial officers who, among other things, reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.”

She continued: “Mediation and arbitration arguably comprise the least diverse segment of the legal profession, which overall is among the least diverse professions,” calling for lawyers to “challenge ourselves and take concrete, affirmative steps to make the change we want to see regarding diversity,” in this field.

The skills that make delegates strong arbitration lawyers, such as advocacy, understanding cultural differences and the ability to communicate across them, could bring more diversity to the profession, expanding dispute resolution more generally and reinforcing positive behaviours outlined earlier that supported the rule of law.

She also stressed the personal, institutional and historical links between the US and UK legal professions, highlighting her close personal relationship with the Law Society of England & Wales president Lubna Shuja – the first Asian and first Muslim to hold the role – and Stephanie Boyce, her predecessor at the ABA, who was recognised recently for her lifetime achievements at the Women and Diversity in Law Awards in March.

In closing, Enix-Ross reminded her audience: “Lawyers everywhere must always advance the essentials of our profession, of equal justice and the rule of law.”

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