Going international – a Scots lawyer's week at the IBA
4 Oct 16
John Morgan, a newly qualified solicitor at Brodies, recently received a scholarship from the International Bar Association to attend its annual conference in Washington DC. He tells of his experience
The IBA's conference brings together 6,000 of the world's leading lawyers, and they were kind enough to invite me along too! The sessions are spread over the course of six days, with receptions and parties each evening sponsored by law firms and embassies in the host city. I have to admit that after day 4 I was incredibly tired, but such was my fear of missing out that I pushed myself to receptions each of the last two evenings. Such a sacrifice, I know...
The speakers at the conference were excellent. Each day started with a keynote speech by a senior figure from the US political scene. I found the talk by retired General Colin Powell to be particularly fascinating as he discussed his perspective on the Iraq War and Guantanamo, and the legal influence on each.
After the morning keynote, attendees broke out into specialised sessions. The sessions I attended ranged from the immensely political – in one, we heard former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's very frank views about Jean-Claude Juncker – to the highly technical: a three hour dissection of the international investment law implications of the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership. Each kind of session was interesting in its own way, and I was delighted to act as rapporteur for the European Regional Forum on the latter.
I can already see the benefit of the sessions themselves for my own practice. One particularly interesting session was on the different ways mental health is treated under different countries' employment legislation. As an employment lawyer, the differing treatment of the issues in countries as seemingly similar to our own as Denmark, has allowed me to critique the UK system more fully.
Not entirely unglamorous
That said, alongside the knowledge to be gained, the IBA conference also serves as an excellent opportunity to meet peers from all over the world. With this in mind, receptions and parties were spread throughout the outside bars and embassy gardens of Washington each evening. I've never used the Uber app as much in one week as this one, as we darted from event to event. We were very fortunate that there was unseasonably warm weather in DC that week, and so every party seemed to be on a rooftop with views of some monument or ornate federal building. I have to congratulate Thomson Reuters for finding a particularly nice rooftop with swimming pool and hot tub.
The opening and closing ceremonies were another highlight. In the former, held at the National Air & Space Museum and Museum of the American Indian, we heard from IMF head Christine Lagarde, who gave an incredibly spirited speech about the role lawyers (and the rule of law) has to play in the global economy. Having wanted to be an astronomer as a child, getting to walk through the exhibits in the Air & Space Museum was a real treat. The closing ceremony was held at the National Portrait Gallery, my own particular favourite exhibit charting the input of African Americans on the musical culture of the USA.
I understand that given recent political events, it may seem that the rapid pace of globalisation over the last 30 years could reverse. While it is too early to tell, it's clear that the UK's (and Scotland's) strength is its position as a heavyweight in world trade. For a junior lawyer, having experience of international networks and an appreciation of other cultures from an early stage will be important. The IBA encourages this alongside the development of international specialisms, and is an organisation I would wholeheartedly recommend other junior lawyers from Scotland get involved in. The scholarship applications open in late summer each year, so keep your eyes open.
On the whole, my time in Washington was a great education. The friendships made and knowledge gained will hopefully stand me in good stead in future and, if nothing else, it means I now have sofas to stay on in some interesting cities!
John Morgan is a newly qualified solicitor in Brodies LLP's employment team. He is currently on secondment to a large financial services institution. He sits on the Law Society of Scotland's Public Policy Committee and regularly contributes to the Law Society's trainee and NQ blogs.