The World Justice Project: The American Bar Association's Multidisciplinary Initiative To Advance The Rule Of Law

Monday, October 1, 2007 - 01:00
William H. Neukom

Editor: Mr. Neukom, would you tell our readers something about your professional experience?

Neukom: I have been practicing law for 40 years in Seattle. For almost 25 of those years I had the opportunity to serve as lead counsel for Microsoft Corporation, and for 17 of those years I was the company's General Counsel. In the fall of 2002 I returned to Preston Gates & Ellis as an equity partner. The firm combined with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart on January 1, 2007 and is presently known as Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis or K&L Gates.

Editor: You have had, in addition to a distinguished law practice, a parallel career with the American Bar Association. Would you share with us some of the high points of that career?

Neukom: It started with my serving on the board of the Young Lawyers Section of the King County Bar Association. That led to a similar position with the ABA Young Lawyers Section, which I chaired in 1978. I went on to serve as ABA assistant secretary, then as secretary, and, for several years as a member of the ABA Journal's board of editors. During this time I remained active with the ABA's Individual Rights and Responsibilities Section as well, and I served as Washington state delegate to the ABA House of Delegates from 1999 to 2006. Four years ago, I began talking with friends about becoming qualified to be the ABA's President-Elect, a position I attained about a year ago. In August of this year I became President of the ABA.

Editor: You have identified the rule of law as one of the principal themes of your year as ABA President. For starters, how did you become interested in this subject?

Neukom: In part, my interest derives from 40 years of practice. I have appeared in city courts, county courts, federal courts and a variety of appellate courts, and I have also been engaged in transactional work, and altogether this experience has taught me that having a fair and impartial justice system is one of the principal foundations of a just society. During my years at Microsoft, I did a fair amount of traveling, and I was able to observe at first hand some of the challenges many developing countries face in not having a fair system of justice.

Since 1990, the ABA has been engaged in a very intense initiative on the rule of law. The Central and Eastern European Legal Initiative, CEELI, resulted from the collapse of the Iron Curtain, and it came about at the request of the countries in that region. They recognized the need to establish the rule of law, and, under the auspices of the ABA, American judges and lawyers have been able to support them in their development of constitutions, civil and criminal codes, and the structures necessary to the fair and impartial administration of justice. The initiative has been sufficiently successful to serve as a model for similar technical assistance work by ABA entities in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

Accordingly, my interest in the rule of law spans the entirety of my career. Most recently, however, a number of different themes have come together in the World Justice Project, which the ABA launched last year.

Editor: Speaking of which, what is the overall goal of the World Justice Project?

Neukom: The goal is to form a multidisciplinary movement in which leaders from not just the law but including people from fields such as business, journalism, education, conservation and the environment, medicine and public health, religion, and so on - people from all of the disciplines which are stakeholders in advancing global justice - work together to advance the rule of law.

The launching sponsor of the World Justice Project is the ABA, and we have co-sponsorship from the International Bar Association, the Union Internationale des Avocats, the Inter-Pacific Bar Association and the Inter-American Bar Association. In light of the multi-disciplinary nature of the project, we hope to have the co-sponsorship of organizations representing public health, journalism, education, and the like, as well. Among the individuals who have given their endorsement and support are former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the United States Supreme Court and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright, James Baker and Warren Christopher.

Editor: How does the World Justice Project define the rule of law?

Neukom: The project is based on four universal principles. The first is that self-government - a government that is subordinate to its constituencies - and its agencies and instrumentalities are accountable according to the law.

The second principle is that the system of self-government is itself based on a set of rules or laws which are fair, as, for example, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, a multicultural document designed to apply across the world to developed and undeveloped countries and to formal and informal government structures. In addition, the laws must be publicized broadly across the community to which they apply, and they must be understood by the people making up that community. They must also be reasonably stable. Rules which may be revised on a monthly basis are as unhelpful as rules which cannot be amended or modified at all.

The third universal principle is that there must be a robust process by which the rights and responsibilities of individuals and organizations, and even the government, can be asserted and defended. That process must be accessible to everyone.

The fourth universal principle is that the process must include advocates and umpires who reflect the diversity of the communities in which they serve. They must be competent, ethical and independent of influences, private and public, in carrying out their duties. That means that the system must accommodate lawyers willing to represent unpopular causes and must insist on judges who decide cases strictly on the merits and without regard to political or any other influence.

Editor: Please tell us about the near-term initiatives that the World Justice Project is launching.

Neukom: In order to build a movement which is multidisciplinary, we have begun a series of outreach meetings with colleagues from across a variety of disciplines. We wish to develop a shared understanding of what is meant by the rule of law based upon the four universal principles to which I have just referred. This, in turn, will help build communities of opportunity, where the economy is sustainable and capable of meeting the economic aspirations of its participants, and one of equity, where people participate in their government and have access to a fair system of justice. The absence of such a shared understanding very often exposes a community to some of the worst of human experiences: violence, corruption, poverty, sickness and ignorance.

Our first offshore outreach meeting was held in Prague in July. Very shortly, we will be meeting in Singapore with a variety of Asian multidisciplinary leaders, and that will be followed by similar meetings, with Latin American and African leaders, in Buenos Aires and Accra, Ghana. Out of those meetings, we trust, will come commitments to work on the design of programs to advance the rule of law in each of those regions.

Domestically, our multidisciplinary outreach meetings are already underway. We anticipate that they will culminate in the 50th anniversary of Law Day, which is May 1, 2008. We anticipate a series of special Law Day programs which are focused on the rule of law within a multidisciplinary framework.

The second near-term initiative is the rule of law index. We are developing a set of factors by which any national state can be impartially and objectively evaluated to determine where, on the continuum from lawlessness to a fully mature rule-of-law culture, it belongs. We want this index to be of help to governments in improving their adherence to the rule of law, and we will be relying on our colleagues in local bar associations, chambers of commerce, medical societies, and the like, to develop data.

The third program is our scholars program. We are holding a workshop in Chicago in November to review the current state of the literature in this area and to determine what needs to be written to prove that the rule of law matters - that it is the foundation of communities of opportunity and equity.

The fourth program is the World Justice Forum, which will be held in Vienna in July 2008. In addition to the scholars' papers to be presented at the forum, there will be plenary sessions on the rule of law index and on the multidisciplinary aspects of the rule of law movement. Most importantly, the forum will include a plenary session for the purpose of incubation - some six or seven hundred leaders from a variety of disciplines and many different countries giving of their thoughts on how best to advance the rule of law.

Editor: Why is the multidisciplinary aspect of the project so important?

Neukom: The rule of law is not the rule of lawyers. Neither is justice the exclusive domain of judges and lawyers. In addition to justice in its strictly legal guise, we talk about economic justice, political justice, social justice, and so on. I believe that in order to address the needs of an increasingly complex society, the rule of law is called upon to take cognizance of aspirations and concepts that, whatever expression they may find in law, are very often drawn from outside it.

The second reason this is so important is that, quite simply, if you can draw upon all of the available resources - business and labor, education, medicine, the arts, religion, and so on - you are going to come up with a better product. That, in turn, together with the advocates brought together to make that product possible, will give us a better opportunity to convince governments to become investors in advancing the rule of law.

Editor: Globalization notwithstanding, as one moves from culture to culture the rule of law is seen through very different eyes. How is this initiative going to try to address these very different perceptions?

Neukom: Overwhelmingly, the world sees justice in terms of the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the concepts which underlie it. This remarkable document is the product of a highly diverse multi-lateral effort and reflects the best thinking of leaders from a broad array of nations.

The basic premise of the World Justice Project is that if a community adopts the four universal principles that define the rule of law - and thereby becomes a community of opportunity and equity - it will bring into being an environment where people have their best opportunity to achieve, as individuals or as members of a group, their full potential. The more we see a world where societies which ascribe to the rule of law exist alongside societies which do not - and which are vulnerable to violence, corruption, poverty, sickness and ignorance - the more apparent it is that this premise is sound.