'Watershed' first agreement among rival Russian Bars

RUSSIA'S three largest rival groups of lawyers reached agreement for the first time ever at the International Bar Association conference in Moscow this month.

Since the fall of communism and the break up of the Soviet Union, groups regulating Russian lawyers have splintered and have been competing bitterly for members. Now, in the first signs of co-operation, the three main Bar associations have sat down together to agree voting rights in the IBA.

Each member country of the IBA has 10 votes. The International Union of Advocates of the CIS, the successor to the lawyers' body that in the days of Communist power covered the entire Soviet Union, has always been an IBA member and until now has had all 10 votes.

But recently two other Russian Bars have joined the IBA: the Federal Union of Advocates, for Russian lawyers, and the Guild of Russian Lawyers, led by Gassan Mirzoev, Boris Yeltsin's personal lawyer, which is seen as being more progressive than the other two Bars. The Bars disagree with each other over how legal practices should be developed.

The three Bars agreed to take three votes each, with one held in reserve. The agreement will be put to a vote of the IBA council in October.

Stephen Denyer, co-chair of the Eastern Europe Forum of the IBA and Allen & Overy's managing partner in Poland, described the meeting as a “watershed”.

He said: “The problem that foreign lawyers and foreign Bars have had with Russia and the former Soviet Union has been that you never knew which Bar to talk to and the Bars didn't talk to each other.

“Now that they have reached agreement on their IBA participation, I think it will be much easier for them to begin to discuss all the issues that arise from the development of legal practices in Russia.”