The World Is Wide, But Within Your Grasp

The Bencher—November/December 2017

By Y. Jun Roh, Esquire

Over the past few years, the American Inns of Court has developed international connections with our colleagues in the United Kingdom and Japan. The constant cultural and scholastic exchanges between American Inns of Court and the four Inns in the United Kingdom, learning about each other’s legal systems and culture, have brought these countries closer than ever. The Pegasus Scholarships have been a key tool in achieving this goal. The Pegasus Scholarship is an exchange program wherein young English barristers travel to the United States for six weeks to learn about our legal system and young American Inns of Court members travel to London for six weeks to learn about the English legal system.

We live in a diverse society, assisting clients from all over the world. As a litigation attorney, I deal with assets and properties located in foreign countries, challenging court judgments from foreign countries, and/or dealing with clients from foreign countries. Likewise, members of the American Inns of Court also encounter ethical and legal issues in dealing with these challenging but interesting matters.

Choice of Laws and Ethics

Attorneys’ professionalism and ethics requirements in the United States are different, sometimes dramatically so, from those of other countries. For example, in one foreign country, former judges and justices who return to their private practices can appear before their former colleagues from the bench in both district and appellate courts. In another foreign country, district judges can investigate their own cases. In some countries, attorneys can request additional fees if they are successful in the client’s case, in addition to the attorneys’ fees and costs they incurred. In the United States, these same issues can create ethical nightmares; however, that does not mean that these practices from foreign countries are ethically wrong because they are each country’s own practices and standards. We know that we cannot apply our own ethics in other countries. If you are dealing with a local attorney in a foreign country, you may face some difficult choices. Should you conform to the ethical requirements in a foreign country or should you choose to follow American professionalism and ethics rules? Do you compromise ethical standards adhered to in the United States? The answers to these questions are not always simple.

In my cases, in advance of the proceeding, I normally explain to the local attorney in the foreign country the ethics and professionalism standards of the United States. It can be a bit time-consuming, but it is tremendously helpful in preventing confusion or chaos as the case proceeds. The same process is also applicable to clients from foreign countries. It is important to clarify expectations in these cases, so we as American lawyers can figure out what we should and should not do. 

There are differences between the legal systems of the United States and foreign countries. In one case, I represented a foreign-born American resident who asked me to work with her local attorney in her country of origin to deal with a judgment from the district court regarding assets located in that country. In my view, the judgment was totally contrary to the United States Constitution and due process. But, rather than attacking the judgment, the local attorney and I decided to explain the United States Constitution to the foreign court, and why, in our opinion, the foreign district court should also consider the laws of the United States, in light of the fact that the client was a resident of the United States. There, the exchange of information between the local attorney and me was an important part of the process. I shared my knowledge of the basic constitutional due process rights of the United States, and learned about the other country’s local practice and ethics. We have yet to hear from the court in the foreign country, but I believe that this is the most effective way to represent a client’s interest in a foreign country and achieve a beneficial result for the client.

Narrowing Legal and Ethics Issues

When I visited the United Kingdom in 2011 as a member of the American Inns of Court’s delegation to the Middle Temple Inn, I had a chance to talk to barristers and solicitors there, and I was impressed by their efforts to uphold their ethical standards, especially when dealing with foreign countries. I also learned that the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, as requested, can hear and review decisions from some foreign countries. Even though it may not be cost-effective to review opinions or judgments from those foreign countries, it shows that the United Kingdom, as the leader of common law–practicing countries, strives to fulfill its leadership role. 

Further, the United Kingdom also makes an effort to sign treaties with other countries, such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, or the Hague Abduction Convention and European Convention on Human Rights.

The Inn accepts students and pupillages from foreign countries and trains them in its process. During my visit, I could see that these trainings help future lawyers and leaders of foreign countries understand the British legal system and ethics.

In addition to the foreign exchange programs outlined above, the American Inns of Court has done many global projects such as the Adopt-A-Barrister Program. Through this program, a number of Inns have hosted Benchers or Barristers from the English Inns, and benefitted from their lively presentations on the history and function of the English Inns, the structure of the English legal system, the relationship between the English Inns and early American history, and other interesting topics. On a regular basis, our Inn members and delegations visit the four British Inns of Court to share legal and ethics issues. 

As members of the American Inns of Court, we all have a duty to promulgate ethics and professionalism, but each of our members, when facing cases involving foreign countries, can better act by understanding different cultures, laws, and ethics in those countries. In the long term, organizations such as the American Inns of Court and the American Bar Association must take a systematic approach to exchanging and sharing legal and ethical knowledge and experiences with foreign Inns and bar associations. We can promote our own laws and ethics while respecting those of foreign countries, and by doing this we can contribute to the common goal our Constitution hopes to achieve—that everyone has an equal right to be protected, and to assert his or her rights under the rules of law within the permissible ethical boundaries wherever they are and whoever they are.

Y. Jun Roh, Esquire, is an associate at Cuddy & McCarthy LLP, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a member of Oliver Seth American Inn of Court and a former member of the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees.

© 2017 Y. Jun Roh, Esq. This article was originally published in the November/December 2017 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.