Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lawyers: get your house in order

The banking profession has rightly gained a reputation for greed, incompetence and worse. But what about the lawyers?

Read through Attachment A to this plea agreement between US citizen John McCarthy and the Attorney's Office of the Central District of California, and you will see how hard his Swiss lawyer worked to encourage him to break the law. McCarthy was a client of Swiss bank UBS.

No doubt many, many other clients of UBS will be signing similar agreements in the coming months. We understand that other US citizens with offshore accounts at banks other than UBS are coming forward to fess up to their tax sins. Doubtless they too will have been given bad advice by crooked lawyers.

Not all lawyers are crooked, of course, but we don't detect signs of discussion within the legal profession about these renegade elements. And absence of serious discussion suggests that the profession is either unable or unwilling to regulate itself when it fails to act in the public interest. The same applies to the banking and accounting professions.

Question: where are the professional codes of conduct relating to how lawyers can advise their clients on tax dodging and the use of tax havens?

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