The story was originally published in March of 2022.
Law students from top US law schools have signed a letter urging international law firms to stop serving Russian clients. They said that any firm that hadn't cut ties with the Kremlin and its supporters was an instrument of Moscow's war machine.
The letter came in the wake of announcements by at least 19 law firms based in the US, UK, and Sweden that they would be closing their Moscow offices. The law students who signed the letter said firms should stop doing business with Russians.
The students wrote that a commitment to review and reexamine work is woefully inadequate.
Law students have been trying to change the world of law firms with their activism. The People's Parity Project worked with law firms to stop forcing lawyers to arbitrate employment disputes. Law firms were pressured to stop doing deals with oil and gas companies by a group called Law Students for Climate Accountability.
The letter had more than 300 signatures and was signed by people who identified themselves as students at the law schools of New York University, Duke, the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA.
It was shared by a law student who claimed to be the daughter of Ukrainian refugees. The idea for the letter came about when she saw media coverage of law firms withdrawing from Russia.
She said that it felt "bizarre" and "really lit a fire under me and other students and professors that are involved."
One signer, Ryan Donahue, said he withdrew from a summer associate program at a large law firm after he was dissatisfied with its response to Russia.
After Russian forces pushed into Ukraine on February 24, foreign law firms began to cut ties with Russia. At least one firm,Norton Rose Fulbright, initially asked its employees to refrain from commenting on new US sanctions, though it later issued a statement expressing shock at the tragic events unfolding in the Ukraine.
Lawyers and commentators said the delay was due to legal and ethical obligations. Lawyers are not allowed to drop a client in the middle of a court case. The student letter calls on law firms to donate profits to Ukrainian relief efforts.
Over the years, some law firms have made tens or hundreds of millions of dollars representing Russia's government, state-owned banks and energy companies.
The Russian government paid more than $42 million in fees to several firms. Many more firms have done deal work for Russian banks and oil and gas companies.
Some of the world's largest law firms continue to act on behalf of Moscow's interests and represent Russian clients, including oligarchs and Kremlin-linked companies.
Law firms have been slow to join the exodus from the Russian economy. Many of America's largest firms profit from laundered Russian elites. They stand in defiance of the international community and undermine global sanctions.
Russian aggression has been abetted by a powerful arsenal of Western-led law, which serves the interests of the West. Some firms have left their Moscow offices open or continued representation of Kremlin-linked clients despite not committing to any policy changes. These firms have become instruments of Moscow's war machine.
In recent days, many firms have taken important steps of closing Russian offices and committing to cease representation of individuals, entities, and businesses tied to the Kremlin. We remain adamant that law firms can only meaningfully fulfill this commitment by withdrawing from all business relationships with Russian clients.
Without any external accountability mechanisms, a commitment to review and evaluate work is woefully inadequate. As law students, we know better than anyone that legal professionals are good at finding loopholes and working within ambiguity, so determining the extent of Kremlin ties is an entirely arbitrary exercise. Russian clients that can afford to hire America's elite law firms are Kremlin-tied.
We call on law firms to join the economic line against Putin and put the rule of law before profits. We want all law firms to cease operations in Russia.
The rule of law is not a given in the Ukrainian people's courage. It is a project that is fought and struggled for, asserted and reasserted, often at great sacrifice and cost. We will be joining you in this project.