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Article

23 Mar 2022

Author:
Lisa Shuchman, Law.com

Commentary: Ukraine has changed the world. Has it also changed law firms?

“Ukraine has changed the World. Has it also changed law firms?” 21 Mar 2022

All of the big international law firms that had bases in Russia are out...all their legal work in Russia has ceased.

[Because of] Russia’s invasion of Ukraine...

Some pulled out right away. Others took longer. Some had been there for a very long time. Many noted that extricating themselves from Russia was not easy, nor a decision taken lightly...

Most firms remarked that they had legal and professional obligations to both clients and employees and would ensure an “orderly transition” as they closed their doors. Their announcements were worded carefully, mindful, one law firm spokesperson explained to me, that they had to prioritize the safety of Russian co-workers and friends...

Sanctions against Russia...which have only increased...made it nearly impossible for law firms to ensure that they would not be violating the ever-changing regulations if they remained and continued much of their Russia-based work. So they had little choice but to get out...

Clearly, sanctions were a big impetus for firms deciding to leave Russia. But...most didn’t have all that much to lose...Russia revenues for most had been declining, and the Moscow offices had been money losers for many in recent years...

Clients, too, are paying attention. They want their outside counsel to be responsible citizens. And with corporations under increasing pressures related to the environment, social and corporate governance (ESG), this extends to examining the role their firms are playing to address social issues and climate change. It may not be enough for firms to reduce their own carbon footprints. Some clients are keeping a watchful eye on which companies their firms choose to represent. .

[P]artners, associates and staff based in the Warsaw offices of global law firms...are helping in various ways—donating clothing, sending food and literally opening their homes to refugees who need a place to stay. A London partner...is even traveling by car to the Polish border...to personally deliver badly needed items...

Other firms are also actively raising funds...

And in the specialized world of international law, Covington & Burling...is representing Ukraine pro bono in a case the country brought against Russia in the International Court of Justice...And last week, the Hague-based court...ordered Russia to immediately suspend its military operation in Ukraine. The ruling, while binding, is largely symbolic because the top U.N. court has no enforcement powers... [yet many firms did nothing when faced with China and Saudi Arabia’s abuses]

The invasion of Ukraine has changed the geopolitical world order. But it doesn’t appear to have fundamentally changed law firms’ standards of behavior. There is no moral realignment. At least not yet.

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