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44th Street Notes

The Summit

Jan 2002

On November 9 and 10 the Association hosted the first-ever conference of the leaders of world city bars. The summit meeting was sponsored by the Association, the City of London Law Society, the Paris Bar and the Tokyo Bar. Madrid, Istanbul, Shanghai, Chicago, Montreal, Mexico City, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and Toronto also sent delegations. Most delegations were led by their president or the equivalent (e.g. the Batonnier of the Paris Bar and the Decano of the Madrid Bar.) The participants concluded that the conference was useful and resolved to convene another summit in a year in Paris.

The purpose of the conference was to rally the profession as an independent voice working to advance the rule of law internationally. The bars in major commercial centers are well suited to lead that effort. As Columbia Law School Dean David Leebron observed in addressing the conference, these cities unite the local with the international. They are centers not only of financial activity but also of academic and cultural activity. They attract top legal talent. They are cosmopolitan. They have the motive and the opportunity to unite the profession internationally for good purposes.

What are those good purposes? The conference discussed four at length: judicial independence and competence, access to justice, building capacity in the commercial center bars for international legal work and multijurisdictional legal practice.

There was a great amount of common experience with respect to each of these topics. In major commercial centers all over the world, for example, the impartiality and independence of judges is at risk whether due to the manner of their selection and training, pressures from the media or government for particular kinds of results or threats from groups that oppose the rule of law. The conference agreed to establish a means for city bars to give support to one another in helping to defend their judges and lawyers against assaults on their independence.

Ko-Yung Tung and Maria Dakolias, General Counsel and Lead Counsel, respectively, of the World Bank, made presentations about the poor state of access to justice in the world both as concerns the availability of counsel and the availability of independent, honest and reasonably speedy processes for the enforcement of rights. Here too, the bar participants identified a largely common experience: volunteer attorneys are used around the world to fill the gap left by insufficient government funding.

As for building capacity for international legal work, there was great support for the sharing of know-how. There was also a consensus that while much of the know-how for complex international transactions resides in the largest international commercial centers, critical knowledge also resides in regional commercial centers. The conference agreed that bars should begin collaborating on CLE programs that use video conferencing and web casting to transfer know-how around the world.

A reasonable expectation would be that the conference would find no consensus on the multijurisdictional practice issues. Several of the bars in attendance do not allow their lawyers to become partners with lawyers from other jurisdictions. Others inhibit in other ways the ability of lawyers from other countries to practice law in their jurisdiction. And while the European Union effectively allows a lawyer qualified in any member country to practice home and host country law in any other member country without requalification (albeit with a three year wait to practice host country law), that privilege is not shared with lawyers who are citizens of non-member states even if they are qualified in a member state. In other words, it is easy enough for a New York lawyer to become a solicitor in England but that will not give him or her the right practice in other EU member states that is possessed by the solicitor who is a citizen of Great Britain.

It is certain, however, that the leadership of large city bars see the benefits of ending restrictive legal practices. As Francis Teitgen, the leader of the Paris Bar said, if you want to be a big international place you have to be open to the international bar that practices law on an international basis. The conferees agreed to work together to see if consensus can be achieved on key points with a view to influencing the upcoming World Trade Organization negotiations on legal services.

A highlight of the summit conference was the concluding address delivered by Associate Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. The full text of Justice Breyer's speech is posted on our web site ( and will be published in The Record.

Justice Breyer focused on the challenges that the international terrorist attack of September 11 poses for the bar and outlined some of the national and international legal tasks ahead.

The first area is building institutions that can respond effectively to a new world order. He emphasized the difficulty and importance of achieving coordination between state and federal governments, let alone among nations, academia and the private sector.

The second area is civil liberties. One important response to the potential conflict between security needs and personal freedom is constructive detailed legal work to confine the potential conflict to areas where it is unavoidable. Justice Breyer's third area is the role of lawyers in helping countries learn from and understand one another and build together effective international institutions. He noted that technical legal skills might help resolve current disagreements about the Rome statute creating an international criminal court.

Justice Breyer's final area is devising rules to provide fair and speedy compensation to victims as we implement Title IV of the recently adopted Air Transportation Safety and Stabilization Act. He said that we obviously want to avoid what happened with respect to asbestos.

One of the functions of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York is to provide international leadership as befits the organized bar in one of the, if not the, legal capitals of the world. The Association is blessed with the resources needed to discharge this role. The summit conference was organized by the Committees on European, Asian and Inter-American Affairs, the Task Force on International Legal Services and the Association's staff, particularly General Counsel Alan Rothstein, Legislative Affairs Director Jayne Bigelsen and my Executive Assistant, Monique La-Touche. Other speakers and discussion leaders included former President Michael Cardozo, Prof. Frank Upham of New York University Law School and Dr. Bryant Garth, Director of the American Bar Foundation. Our delegation consisted of Dan Kolb, the Chair of our Executive Committee, Robert Van Lierop, the Chair of our Council on International Affairs and Barbara Berger Opotowsky, our Executive Director. My thanks to all.

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