A swinging affair over there

Networking heaven, chocolate CDs and US connections – three conference veterans give their views of the annual shindig

Nigel Meeson is a barrister at Queen Elizabeth Building Chambers, Temple

The ABA conference – “probably the biggest lawyer's jamboree in the world”. Or so it could aptly be described since it is very much a social as well as an educative event.

Many US lawyers see it as an easy opportunity to clock up their necessary hours of mandatory continuing legal education while at the same time making and renewing professional contacts and generally enjoying themselves.

Others are involved in the more serious legal politics that goes on there.

From the point of view of the individual barrister, there may not appear to be any obvious reason to attend what is, after all, a foreign Bar conference. Leaving aside that section of the Bar for whom anything American is simply an anathema and those involved in any “official” English Bar presence, is there anything to be gained from attending?

I believe that there is. Although I have to admit to a personal interest, being admitted to the Bar in California and also a member of the ABA, there do seem to be many reasons why any barrister, whatever their field of practice, could find attendance worthwhile.

One of the major benefits of attending is the wealth of opportunity that exists for legal education. Apart from the main showcase events, which usually prove to be worthwhile attending, the various sections of the ABA all have meetings, seminars and events covering the whole range of practice areas. Of particular relevance for the English barrister in the light of recent practice directions and pronouncements is alternative dispute resolution.

The use of ADR in the US is much more widespread than in the UK, and the ABA conference provides a useful opportunity to learn what developments are taking place in the field as well as a chance to meet practitioners involved in various forms of ADR in the different states.

In addition it is possible to find seminars and discussions on just about any specialist area of practice.

As well as broadening one's mind, there is obviously extensive opportunity for 'networking' – take an extensive supply of business cards and don't forget your email address.

The many social events (both those which are part of the main conference activities and also receptions given by local US law firms) provide a good opportunity to spread the word that Rumpole is not an accurate reflection of the modern English Bar, and to explain the rules about direct access to the Bar for foreign lawyers and how efficient and economic the Bar is.

Be warned however, the US lawyer's primary concern when considering engaging a foreign lawyer is the question of whether they will obtain referrals in return – so play up this aspect.

Finally, although this could be considered to be a pure point of prejudice, having no relevance to the merits of the ABA at all, it is good fun.

David Greene is a litigation partner at London firm Edwin Coe

The concept of turning a city over to thousands upon thousands of lawyers may seem an anathema to an American lawyer-hating public, but this is precisely what happens when the ABA meets for its annual conference in one of the major cities of the US in the first week of August each year.

Such is the size of the conference that it is only the major cities which have sufficient conference and hotel accommodation to house the thousands who flock to engage in a frenetic five-day networking and training programme.

Such is the importance of lawyers in the US political system that the meeting is not only a congress for lawyers to discuss the pertinent issues of law, but also a major political event on the annual calendar attracting to its halls leading political figures of the day.Each year, the US attorneys are joined by about 150 foreign lawyers. Out of those, the largest contingent comes from the UK, beating Canada into second place.

Part of the UK delegation is organised by the Law Society of England and Wales and the Scottish Law Society.

Those attending from the UK have a variety of reasons for doing so. Some see it purely as a marketing exercise, unable to resist the thought of thousands of US attorneys to network with. Some go to speak at the many seminars and others clearly see it simply as a great excuse to party.

Most attending from the UK combine a healthy mix of these factors, which makes for a very hard few days. The seminars start with breakfast meetings from 8.30 am onwards, the partying has usually ended about an hour before.There appears to be no limit to the hospitality that the US hosts wish to lavish upon their counterparts from the UK.

The ABA conference consists of 22 sections, each with a full programme of events over the five days. The UK delegates tend to concentrate on four of those sections – business law, labour and employment law, litigation, and international law and practice. It is in association with the international section that the Law Society works in organising its own programme.

For most of us, the international section provides the most relevant subjects at its seminars, including this year 'Five decades after Hiroshima: controlling weapons of mass destruction'.

It is of course not only the UK lawyers who undertake the networking process. The Americans are networkers par excellence and after finishing a conversation you often feel that someone has given you a good working over.

In addition to the events organised for the conference, there is a substantial Expo Exhibition with everything the modern lawyer could desire, such as chocolate CDs. There is even a stand each year which specialises in feeding upon a lawyer's masochistic desire to acquire all the equipment needed for the good lawyer-hater, including T-shirts bearing the legend 'I hate lawyers'.

Having attended each conference, one US attorney last year told me the new work that one may gain only starts to flow after 10 years; like all marketing campaigns, it needs continuity over a period. However, despite the relatively few times I have attended, work has flowed and has more than covered the costs incurred.

There is no doubt the UK is the most important country for US investment in Europe, taking some 40 per cent each year. The Law Societies do a good job in selling the legal services which we all have to offer.

The American door is open for business at the ABA conference so if you can persuade your marketing manager, join us and party.

David Church is partner in charge at Eversheds, Brussels

The annual conference of the American Bar Association is a huge event attracting delegates ranging from small town orientated practitioners to international commercial lawyers from large international firms.

My attendance of three conferences in the last five years has coincided with acting for an increasing number of American clients in Europe.

These conferences have provided opportunities for intensive meetings with a wide range of US lawyers and a chance to catch up on legal developments in the US and discuss practice in Europe and the UK.

US corporations and large multi-national firms are still by far the most substantial investors in Europe and the UK, and a meeting of the parties involved provides each with a chance to develop the necessary relationships and cultural understanding that is essential for proper representation of clients' European interests.

This year there will be the added opportunity of explaining my firm's (formerly London-based Jaques & Lewis) merger with Eversheds and its nationwide practice, which is particularly relevant to inward investors.

It is often the case that the US lawyer's contacts are only with London-based firms although their clients' operations are in regional locations.

And a colleague, Frank Fine, a US lawyer who has practised European competition and anti-trust law in Brussels for 10 years, will have the opportunity to meet with other members of the section of anti-trust law as well as lawyers he has worked on European projects with.

He will also be discussing the agenda for the international practice meeting on European competition law which has been scheduled for Spring 1996 in Brussels and at which he will be speaking.

The ABA conference is of major interest for expatriate lawyers such as my colleague. It gives transplanted US lawyers practising overseas and delegates from other jurisdictions, an opportunity to catch up with any changes in US anti-trust law, which is particularly important in view of the increasing co-operation between US and EU competition authorities and the trend towards harmonisation.

The convention also provides an opportunity to see under one roof those US lawyers who a UK or European lawyer may have worked alongside or shared a conference podium with.

Many of those attending, such as my colleague, who now has a fuller understanding of the differences that exist between UK and US practice, will also bring their own perspectives of practice in Europe and the UK.