IBA Conference: in the internet age face-to-face meetings still reign supreme

Michael Hales

Michael Hales

Held between 4 and 9 October, reported attendance figures at the world’s largest legal event varied from 4,500 to 5,000, but all agreed that Madrid played host to one of the best-attended IBA ­conferences for years.

CMS Cameron McKenna dispute resolution head Guy Pendell has been making his way through the 50 or so business cards he traded at the week-long event.

“It was much better-attended that I thought, which either means people have too much time on their hands or they value the IBA,” Pendell said.

The age-old question of whether people went for the receptions or the sessions remained, but both had value, according to Pendell.

“Some of the seminars were excellent,” he said. “One of the problems these days is people sitting at the back working on their BlackBerrys, but if you take lawyers’ BlackBerrys away attendance would plummet. Some of the networking opportunities were equally as useful as the seminars.”

Pendell stayed in a hotel opposite the conference ­centre and echoed many who grumbled about the time it took to reach the receptions held in Madrid.

Sometimes taking up to an hour by taxi, the trip was hampered by roadworks, resulting in plenty of griping from delegates.

“It didn’t dampen my spirits – it was still a useful event,” added Pendell.

Those who took the Metro, such as Lovells ­partner Andreas von Falck, had no complaints.

“I had no problem ­whatsoever,” said von Falck, who agreed that attendance was as high as he had ever seen, with a large delegation of lawyers from Nigeria in ­particular. “I’ve never seen so many people. For us the IBA is about showing a ­presence and building and enhancing the firm’s ­relationships.”

Michael Hales, chair of the international committee and European group at Nabarro, said he was very pleased with the conference, and even picked up a ­mandate from a referral
that came directly from a ­meeting in Madrid.

“It was a fantastic success – we extracted every minute out of it,” he said.

Hales, who also acts as vice-chair of the IBA’s ­litigation committee, added that there was still room for improvement and proposed accepting the importance of networking by cutting the length of seminars from a single three-hour session to two sessions lasting one and a quarter hours each, with a 30-minute coffee break in between.

“There’s tension in the IBA in the planning of the conference, between ­providing the technical knowledge and the lawyers who go there for other ­reasons,” he said. “If lawyers are trying to meet people then they’ll always sit down for an hour then interrupt by leaving, and it’s not fair on the speakers.

“Also, if people went into town in the morning then they’d often not make the afternoon session because of the journey time between the conference centre and the city.”

A well-attended evening held by Uría Menéndez at Real Madrid FC’s football stadium will linger long in the memories of many. “It was a fantastic night” said Lovells’ von Falck, who joined thousands of lawyers for pitch-side drinks and a tour of the many trophy cabinets.

Delegates also praised the drinks and canapés at the Thyssen-Bornemisza gallery, held by Madrid-based firm Perez Llorca.