I attended the International Bar Association Conference in Washington D.C. in September 2016. I was able to attend the event thanks to the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association International Legal and Professional Development Grant.
The IBA conference took place over five days and 7,000 delegates were in attendance. It was an opportunity to hear from leaders in the field, as well as to network with lawyers from around the world.
The keynote speaker for the Opening Ceremony was Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, who addressed the conference on corruption. She said: “Enhancing integrity in public and private sector governance is critical in mending the trust divide we see in societies today.” The Welcome Party was held in the Air and Space Museum and the Native American History Museum – where the networking began in earnest.
As the conference was held in Washington, there was an address from a high ranking member of the American government every day. We heard from Colin Powell, former Secretary of State; Loretta Lynch, Attorney General of the USA who was speaking only days after the shootings in North Carolina; Jeh Johnson, Head of Homeland Security; and Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady. The week concluded with a symposium where Justice Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court, addressed the conference on the rule of law.
Seminars were held throughout the day, covering every practice area of law imaginable. Some of the highlights for me were the IBA Human Rights Institute’s forum, which debated the human rights issues in the USA and drafted a letter to the next President of the United States; the War Crimes Committee mock trial on whether the USA had failed international justice by not signing up to the ICC; and the Family Law Committee’s session on the Rights of the Child. It was incredibly interesting to be discussing international law with people at the height of their practice, who were eager to learn best practice from other countries. It was quite startling to realise the esteem in which Barristers from England and Wales are held – even if, as in my case, they are only a few years into their careers.
In the evenings, there were a large number of cocktail parties and receptions hosted by different jurisdictions, firms and organisations. The Bar Council, along with the Faculty of Advocates in Scotland, and the Bars of Northern Ireland and Ireland, hosted a reception at the British Ambassador’s residence. The aim of which was to promote the UK as an attractive jurisdiction to work in, and to litigate in. Initially, the networking seemed a little intense but because everyone else was there for the same purpose, it became very natural to introduce myself and hand out business cards after exchanging information.
The closing party at the National Portrait Gallery gave everyone a chance to enjoy themselves with food and wine whilst being surrounded by the portraits of American Presidents. Most delegates were there to meet lawyers from other jurisdictions who they could work with and receive referrals from.
The Bar Council and the Young Barristers’ Committee were very active throughout the conference. Not only did they host the reception at the British Embassy, but they also met with other countries’ respective delegations in order to promote England and Wales as a place to do business. There was a small and diverse group of young barristers from England and Wales who tried to meet with as many different people as possible, and to soak up the expertise from the global leaders in our respective fields. It is very encouraging that the Bar has such a confidence in the Young Bar that it seeks to encourage and support young barristers at international events.
I would strongly encourage anyone considering international practice to attend an international conference as it really opens your eyes to the work and the opportunities which are available, and the career you may wish to build. The conference was a good reminder about the importance of the rule of law, and the vital role lawyers play in our societies and in the world.
Barrister, 5 St. Andrew’s Hill
Katherine Duncan is a young barrister specialising in family, criminal and public law at 5 St Andrew’s Hill.