Responding to the ABA’s Objections to the ENABLERS Act

In a rare moment of bipartisanship, the U.S. Congress is on the cusp of adopting a significant piece of anticorruption legislation: the ENABLERS Act.  The ENABLERS Act is targeted at closing loopholes in the American financial services system that have allowed corrupt foreign actors to use “gatekeeper” entities like law firms, trusts, payment processors, and accounting firms to launder billions of dollars through offshore accounts. The proposed legislation, which has been attached to the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), would expand the definition of “financial institution” in the current Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) to cover more gatekeeper entities like those mentioned above, and would require these financial services-adjacent entities to institute anti-money laundering (AML) systems, comply with Know Your Client (KYC) regulations, and file suspicious activity reports (SARs) with the Treasury Department. 

The ENABLERS Act, discussed previously on this blog, has received widespread support in both the House and Senate, but some influential interest groups remain opposed. Notably, the American Bar Association (ABA) has objected to the inclusion of law firms among the entities that the ENABLERS Act would subject to the BSA’s AML rules. The ABA’s chief objections are that the ENABLERS Act—especially the requirement that law firms would be required to file SARs—would undercut attorney-client confidentiality and the right to effective counsel and would inappropriately interfere with state judicial regulation of the legal profession.

While the ABA is correct in emphasizing the fundamental principle that everyone is entitled to legal representation, and that lawyers have duties of confidentiality, loyalty, and zealous advocacy to their clients, the ABA’s objections to the ENABLERS Act are overstated. Upon closer inspection, the ENABLERS Act does not ask lawyers to do more than the ethical regime that governs the legal profession already requires or permits.

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