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An Ethical Representation of Sovereign Clients in Debt Disputes

This Article examines the unique ethical questions that arise when representing foreign states in sovereign debt disputes. Although sovereign representation has become commonplace, no existing scholarship has attempted to study the particular ethical quandaries of foreign sovereign representation. When representing a sovereign, basic assumptions about the principal-agent relationship may be inapplicable, the welfare of an entire foreign people depends on the lawyer’s competence, and attorneys may find it necessary to rebalance their ethical duties in light of inconsistencies between a client’s responsibilities under domestic law and its rights under international law. While this Article limits its scope to the context of sovereign debt litigation, much of its analysis is more broadly applicable. The Article begins by examining client identity and the need to serve client autonomy by deferring to a client’s governmental structure. It then explores the duty of preserving client confidences, the attorney’s role as a global actor, and how one may represent repugnant regimes while still serving the goals of transnational justice. Finally, the Article employs the Argentina debt litigation as a case study to examine the ethics of candid noncompliance. It concludes that sovereign litigators must subordinate a duty of compliance to the higher ethical obligations of advocacy and candor.