A Step You Can Take to Promote the Rule of Law

6 Min Read By: John H. Stout, Alvin W. Thompson, Lakshmi Gopal

“A Step You Can Take to Promote the Rule of Law” is the seventh article in a series on intersections between business law and the rule of law, and their importance for business lawyers, created by the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s Rule of Law Working Group. Read more articles in the series.

In January, the Rule of Law Working Group wrote about the important role of business lawyers as custodians of the Rule of Law. We observed that the Rule of Law is in decline globally, including in the United States, and highlighted the need for the legal profession to take a leadership role in strengthening that “durable system of laws institutions, norms, and community commitment” that has become synonymous with the Rule of Law.[1]

People with legal training should have a better appreciation of the essential role that the Rule of Law plays in our democracy. But we should not assume that people who are not members of the legal profession share that understanding.

When the Rule of Law is mentioned, the first reaction of the public, and many lawyers, is that the interests primarily implicated are those of people who are regularly involved in litigation. But the typical business lawyer no less than people who are regularly involved in litigation has a stake in a well-functioning legal system, and businesspeople have such a stake even when they are not engaged in litigation. This is because we have only one legal system. The principles and processes that apply to individuals and non-business issues also apply to businesses. Likewise, the system evolves, or deteriorates or is strengthened, systemwide.

When business lawyers pause and reflect on how the Rule of Law is the underpinning of the work they do on a daily basis in their professional lives, namely, “helping their clients navigate the legal landscape in which they operate,”[2] it becomes clear that business lawyers have as much a stake in the Rule of Law—if not a greater stake—as do people who are regularly engaged in litigation. We hope that such reflection motivates you to help strengthen the Rule of Law.

A Lumen Learning course on the Importance of Rule of Law to Business begins with an explanation of what is at stake for businesses as follows:

Can you imagine trying to do business without being able to have any reasonable expectations of other people’s behavior? Would you be willing to conduct business if you had no legal means by which to protect your property interests? And in the case of a dispute, without a rule of law system, there would be no established way to resolving it. Without the rule of law, business would be chaotic.[3]

The United States Chamber of Commerce has a Coalition for the Rule of Law in Global Markets. The Rule of Law Coalition observes that “The Rule of Law is among the most crucial factors in a company’s ability to do business profitably in any given market over time.”[4] It highlights the importance of transparency, predictability, stability, enforceability/accountability, and due process.[5] It is our hope that when you help businesspeople pause and reflect on how important the Rule of Law is to what they do on a daily basis, they too will be motivated to actively support the Rule of Law.

So what can you do, and will it make a difference?

The Rule of Law Working Group is promoting an initiative to recruit members of our Section to talk with a business client or a business group (e.g., local chamber of commerce or trade association) about a topic related to our legal system sometime during the month of May. We chose the month of May because Law Day[6] is May 1st, and it was established by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to celebrate the role of law in our society and to cultivate a deeper understanding of the legal profession. Members of Section leadership have already committed to participating.

The Rule of Law Working Group has identified a number of possible formats for such engagement with business clients or business groups. These include a talk followed by a question-and-answer period; a panel discussion with you as a moderator or one of the participants; a quiz or contest; a video presentation/slide show followed by a discussion involving the whole group or small groups; and inviting a client or group of clients to your office for lunch and any of the above. If you have any additional ideas, please pass them along to us, and we will share them. In the next few weeks, the Rule of Law Working Group will be posting on its website information about resources related to specific topics.

Your participation will make a difference, because it will take many of us, not just a few Section leaders, to have an impact. In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how ideas spread: “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”[7] He references “the mystery of the word of mouth—a phenomenon that everyone seemed to agree was important but no one seemed to know how to define.”[8] Gladwell observes “that we are about to enter the age of word of mouth, and that, paradoxically, all of the sophistication and wizardry and limitless access to information of the New Economy is going to lead us to rely more and more on very primitive kinds of social contacts.”[9]

Gladwell’s thesis finds support in our nation’s history, namely, the broad-based nature of the movement that led to the creation of our democracy. When students first learn about the American Revolution, they are taught stories about a few events and a few great men. But it is “We the people” who make things happen. As Ray Raphael writes in Founding Myths,

In popular narratives, only leaders function as agents of history. They provide the motive force; without them, nothing would happen. The famous founders, we are told, made the American Revolution. They dreamed up the ideas, spoke and wrote incessantly, and finally convinced others to follow their lead. But honoring these people as the architects of our nation’s independence is like honoring Lyndon Johnson as the architect of civil rights. In both cases, powerful men finalized the deal, but others placed the deal on the table and pushed it forward. [10]

So we hope you will take the step we suggest, with other members of your Section, to promote the Rule of Law so that together we can have a meaningful impact. If you are willing to join in this initiative, please contact Lakshmi Gopal at [email protected], and we will put you on the list of participants so that we can keep you updated.

For the Rule of Law Working Group,

John H. Stout, Co-Chair
Alvin W. Thompson, Co-Chair
Lakshmi Gopal, Vice Chair

  1. World Justice Project, What is the Rule of Law?, https://worldjusticeproject.org/about-us/overview/what-rule-law (last visited March 15, 2022).

  2. Kimberly Lowe, The Business Lawyer and the Rule of Law—The Rule of Law Is Our Business (June 29, 2021), https://businesslawtoday.org/2021/06/the-business-lawyer-and-the-rule-of-law-the-rule-of-law-is-our-business/ (last visited March 15, 2022).

  3. Lumen Learning, Legal and Social Environment in Business, 1.4 Importance of Rule of Law to Business, https://courses.lumenlearning.com/legsocenvirnbusleap/chapter/1-4-importance-of-rule-of-law-to-business/ (last visited March 15, 2022).

  4. U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rule of Law Coalition, https://www.uschamber.com/program/international-affairs/americas/rule-of-law-coalition (last visited March 15, 2022).

  5. Id.

  6. For more information on Law Day, see https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/law-day/history-of-law-day/ (last visited March 15, 2022).

  7. Malcom Gladwell, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, 7 (Back Bay 2002).

  8. Id. at 264.

  9. Id. at 264-65.

  10. Ray Raphael, Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past, 268 (The New Press 2004).


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