Review of the American Bar Association (ABA) Annual Meeting in Toronto


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 Review of the American Bar Association (ABA) Annual Meeting in Toronto

Over 6,000 lawyers descended upon the vibrant city of Toronto for the 2011 American Bar Association Annual Meeting between 4-9 August (to the evident delight of many a taxi driver, and restaurant owner!) for a jam-packed schedule of continuous education seminars; legal discussions, networking and debates.

The flexible format of the conference (which was spread over several different venues from the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to many top end downtown hotels) allowed delegates to pick which seminars to attend. An unintended side effect being that some smaller sessions appeared to be scarcely attended at the beginning whilst delegates navigated their way between venues, which in some cases were far apart.

The seminars provided a unique opportunity for UK lawyers to spot developing trends, and learn from the experiences of US and Canadian lawyers, academic scholars and in-house counsel. The wide-ranging seminars emphasized the many similarities (and shared difficulties) in practice and procedure between our legal systems, on topics such as: social media use in the work place; cross border disputes; discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief; cloud computing; enforcing restrictive covenants (the brilliantly named: “Wanna Keep a Secret, Eh?”); and the use of mediation to settle disputes.

To me the most thought-provoking seminars were a presentation on how to list a company on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and also an 8am session entitled “Crisis management, tales from in-house Counsel: How to react, plan and Survive a crisis”; which boasted a distinguished panel of in-house counsel, practitioners, and a PR expert. The General Counsel of the Toronto Transit Commission, Brian Leck, gave an honest and frank overview of how to deal with mass litigation following a high-profile subway crash, whilst remaining sensitive to those who have been injured, and emphasised the need to develop a media plan and tackle the media head on.

New Law Society President John Wotton, and International Policy Adviser (Americas & Caribbean), Charlotte Ford, were flying the flag for their members back in the UK. Mr Wotton gave a presentation to American Bar Association’s Commission on Ethics about how Alternative Business Structures (ABS), with strict controls, can offer new opportunities for the legal sector in the US. Mr Wotton also took the opportunity to forge closer links with senior representatives of international markets who are opening up access to legal services, such as Korea, which may be of benefit to members in England and Wales.

The Annual Meeting culminated in the prestigious Presidents reception, hosted by outgoing ABA President Stephen N. Zack, at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). Where ABA delegates enjoyed exclusive use of one of Ontario’s finest museums, along with intriguingly named cocktails (some of which were served next to dinosaurs and stuffed bears!), a sumptuous bonanza of food, and live music.

Philip Henson, Partner and head of employment law at award-winning London law firm, Bargate Murray

Article written for the Solicitors Journal

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