I had a great day in Glasgow yesterday with a group of associates from a global law firm. I ran a general cultural awareness training programme aimed at increasing these lawyers ability to work cross-border. All law firms say they offer their global clients a seamless service across the jurisdictions but not all law firms invest in the training needed to make lawyers truly global in their outlook.
One of the discussions which created a great amount of interest was around the blurred lines between cultural expectations and ethical boundaries. In a nutshell, what one country finds ethically unacceptable is very often standard practice in another country. What constitutes a bribe under the UK Anti-Bribery and Corruption Act is merely seen as a relationship-building gift in a different part of the world.
This creates massive dilemmas for global companies. Can you have an ethics and compliance programme which is truly global without it coming across as 21st century colonialism? Does it matter if it does come across in that fashion?
This also presents difficulties for lawyers who can only give accurate legal advice when a client might be looking for more commercial, practical solutions. If an international client makes it clear they don’t want a female partner working on a matter, should the firm refuse to take on the mandate?
In the post-Brexit world, UK companies are being encouraged to look for new business in the emerging market spaces. When they do that they will be faced with lots of these ethical dilemmas and have to compete with organisations from other parts of the world who are not bound by the same ethical agenda. These clients will be looking to their lawyers for advice in these situations.
How will the lawyers and law firms respond?