Lawyers and Legal Policy Debates

The recent dust up over corporate inversions raises an interesting side issue. The debate itself is whether US corporate tax policy should be changed. The side issue is who should be leading the debate.

I think we can agree that the debate should be led by the folks who can offer the best perspectives on what should be done over time. Ideally, that would include academics who have the time to gather data and expertise. And from the link, you see Harvard Law Professors playing this role. But it should also include practitioners who live with the day to day realities of how the corporate tax system works.

Here is the problem. Legal practitioners don’t think this way. They are more like intellectual plumbers than creative thinkers. And to be blunt, that greatly weakens the integrity of our global legal community. How to change this? It might start with re-thinking legal ethics. Lawyers should maintain their obligations to their clients. But they should also embrace obligations to strengthen the functioning of the legal system.

Will this happen? Not if lawyers get to decide what their role should be. But notice that while this might be obviously the case, it is not an ringing endorsement for building accountability of legal system performance to society.

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