The IBA's Section on Business Law is trying to bridge the gap between cultures around the world, says Willem Calkoen. For more than 50 years, the International Bar Association (IBA) has occupied a place of influence and importance in the global legal profession. Since its inception in 1947, at the offices of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, the IBA has grown in size and stature to become the international legal profession's largest and most active organisation.

It was founded initially as an organisation for national Bar associations and law societies. For the first two decades of its existence, it was simply a meeting point for the presidents and officers of a handful of legal organisations around the world.

In 1970, on the initiative of IBA honorary life president George Seward, the Section on Business Law (SBL) was established, and applications for individual membership were invited.

The decision to accept individual members – initially permitted as an – boosted the IBA, and in Paris in 1971, the SBL held its first conference for individual lawyers. There are now about 20,000 individual members around the globe. They are international lawyers who have an interest in bridging the gap between cultures, traditions and legal systems, and who want to meet and build contacts with other lawyers.

The majority of IBA members have an international client base, and most join it for the networking opportunities and its ability to provide members with a worldwide database of legal knowledge.

In the years since it was first established, the SBL has set up specialist committees to address issues in a wide variety of legal practice areas.

Handling subjects ranging from arbitration and international litigation to banking and insurance, each SBL committee has established itself as a meeting place for top international lawyers.

Another role for the three IBA sections is to involve themselves with new developments in the law. In the case of the SBL, this role has ranged from starting up new committees in growing areas of legal practice, such as business, crime and communications law, to assisting with the formation and promotion of harmonised international laws.

Committee officers, who are acknowledged leaders in their fields, act as advisers to international bodies such as Uncitral (arbitration and construction), Unidroit (franchising and banking) and Iosco (accountancy standards). SBL committees carry out work on subjects such as the development of a cross-border insolvency concordat (which has already been used by New York judges) to providing guidance in cases involving transitional bankruptcy issues.

Over the past 10 years, the SBL has made a concerted effort to become truly global. Through its regional forums and steering groups for the Asia-Pacific, Arab, Eastern Europe and Latin America regions, the SBL has organised a number of conferences and roadshows catering for the needs of lawyers in those areas.

Lawyers in these regions have benefited from the SBL's programmes, and the profession in their jurisdictions will continue to grow through the assistance and input of the IBA's worldwide network of lawyers.

Each year the SBL runs a programme of conferences and seminars in venues worldwide. The major events – staged biennially – address a wide range of practice and professional issues. It is through these sessions that members can learn about legal systems in other jurisdictions.

In the next 50 years there will be an even greater level of co-operation between business lawyers around the world. There will also be increased levels of teamwork between in-house and outside counsel. This collaboration is already visible in the SBL.

The SBL will continue to grow from its current membership of some 14,000 lawyers, and the IBA as a whole will increase its current coverage of lawyers in more than 180 countries worldwide.

Conference briefing

Leading lawyers worldwide will be called on to assist with the drafting of model guidelines for non-discriminatory legal practice during the IBA's Section on Business Law and Section on General Practice 1997 conference in New Delhi.

The drawing up of the guidelines will be one of a number of matters discussed by delegates. Other topics include telemedicine, family law, banking, aeronautical law, crime and international litigation.

The conference attendees, speakers and session moderators will include many of the international legal profession's most prominent members.

Among the speakers will be:

the former Attorney General of India, Soli Sorabjee;

Phillip Sycamore, president of the Law Society;

Joyce M Hansen, deputy-general counsel and senior vice-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York;

Ashok Desai, Attorney General of India;

former BBC India correspondent, Mark Tully; and

Mary Dawson QC, associate deputy minister of justice for Canada.

In addition to reviewing legal practice areas, IBA standing committees meeting during the conference will address professional issues, including multidisciplinary partnerships (MDPs), the rights of licensed practitioners of foreign law and professional ethics.

The second Bernard Simons Memorial Award – which honours the achievements of the late London solicitor Bernard Simons – will be presented during the conference.

This will be preceded by the seminar for officials of Asian Bar associations, and a basic course in the fundamentals of international legal practice.