IBA's movers in Vancouver

Despite competition, this year's IBA conference is set to be the biggest and brightest ever, reports Richard Tyler.

The International Bar Association's (IBA) annual get-together this year in Vancouver between 13-18 September comes hot on the heels of that of its rival, the Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA), which held its annual meeting in Nice in August.

The IBA emerged from the UIA in 1947 and for a few years the two shared annual conferences and even presidents. Today they compete for the membership fees of lawyers and vie to set the agenda for the profession.

During this year's UIA conference opening ceremony, its president, Bernard Cahen, championed the role of his organisation. He argued that the “UIA represents the world bars” and insisted that while other organisations – such as the IBA – may have more economic and media clout, there could be no reform “without our position being known”.

Cahen's confidence is the product of the UIA's traditional collective membership of bar associations and law societies from the world's developed legal jurisdictions. Recently, however, the UIA changed its policy to allow individual members to sign up. Roughly 1,300 lawyers turned up for the weekend in Nice.

But the IBA boasts individual membership of some 18,000 lawyers and representatives from 183 law societies and bar associations worldwide. This year it is toasting the fact that Vancouver will be the largest annual event in its history, with 3,000 individual lawyers flying into Vancouver from more than 100 countries.

With its mix of interests and nationalities, the IBA portrays itself as the “United Nations” of the legal world. “We set the agenda for national bar councils and law societies to push through change,” says its London-based spokesperson.

And this year, the IBA's council will vote on resolutions to regulate multidisciplinary practices and promote non-discrimination in legal practice.

Other highlights include an examination of international mergers, a new forum for barristers and advocates to discuss whether the specialist advocate has a future in modern practice, and an intriguing seminar where the speakers will counter the common edict that older lawyers should be seen and not heard.

Law Society president Michael Mathews will sit in on a panel that will look at the pros and cons of lawyer compensation funds.

Meanwhile Edwin Godfrey, head of commercial at Simmons & Simmons, will chair the session on international mergers.

Confirmed speakers include Marc Bartel, secretary general of the Euro-giant Linklaters & Alliance; Philip Brown, the man with his ear to the ground at consultancy firm Hodgart Temporal; and a Freshfield's insider, yet to be named, who will reveal the intricate details of its tie-up with German firm Deringer Tessin.

The IBA's task force on the economic consequences of litigation worldwide will present results of its five-year study and the IBA's Human Rights Institute (HRI) will set out its 1999 agenda.

At this year's UIA conference, Cahen revealed that he wanted to bring the UIA and the IBA into closer co-operation in the promotion of human rights. He met with senior representatives of the HRI, including its incoming co-chairman Peter Goldsmith QC, to look at how the two organisations could combine their resources in the defence of those lawyers who stand by the presumption of innocence.

“There are too many attorneys in prison or prosecuted just doing their job,” says Cahen. “It is vital that international organisations put an end to their internal quarrels. We must speak with one voice as it doesn't matter which organisation comes to the aid of a colleague.”

Although discussions are at an early stage, it is thought that the IBA's Human Rights Institute will reveal a memo of understanding with the UIA at its meeting in Vancouver. If an agreement is reached, it would make a refreshing change from the competition that has driven the two organisations apart in the past.