Securing conference a serious coup


The key man in bringing the mammoth International Bar Association annual bash to Dublin has found the experience ‘extraordinarily enriching and rewarding,’ writes CAROLINE MADDEN

SOLICITOR MICHAEL Greene is just back from Ibiza by way of Florence and the UK, and still sporting a dapper Panama-style hat, when we meet in Dublin Airport. However it hasn’t been all play for the former AL Goodbody partner recently. He spent about five hours each day of his sojourn sorting out the final logistical details of this week’s International Bar Association conference, which will see about 5,200 lawyers travel to Dublin from around the globe, along with more than 1,500 partners, exhibitors and support staff.

Greene, who has been involved with the IBA since attending his first annual conference in Buenos Aires in 1988, was instrumental in bringing all of this about. At his very first IBA management board meeting five years ago, he proposed that the 2012 annual conference be held in Dublin. “It was a leap of faith,” he says, “since the Convention Centre was merely a shallow hole in the ground and Dublin had little experience of running large conferences.”

Competition from potential host cities for the IBA’s yearly bash is huge, given the kudos and spending power that it brings, so making a successful bid was a serious coup. This year’s conference will be the largest gathering of bar association members and international lawyers ever. Naturally, organising an event of this size has not been without its challenges. The Convention Centre Dublin is very well laid out, Greene says, but the largest events of the conference, such as yesterday’s opening reception, have to be held in the RDS in order to accommodate all of the delegates.

And then there’s the issue of accommodation. Dublin offers about 11,500 beds in hotels which are three-star or higher. However most of the lawyers attending the conference are accustomed to staying in very high-end accommodation and the capital simply doesn’t have enough five-star hotels to meet the demand. What Dublin does offer, Greene points out, is Irish charm and hospitality, which he believes will more than compensate for the lack of five-star beds.

In fact, despite the logistical challenges of putting on an event of this scale, everything was coming together nicely until the threat of industrial action at Ireland’s main airports reared its head last week. Such action would not only have been an embarrassment, he says, but would have been extraordinarily disruptive, especially as most of the key speakers – who include a number of Nobel Laureates – have to travel here from abroad. Fortunately, the threat of strike action has been averted for now.

The IBA is effectively the global voice for the legal profession, and has over 50,000 members worldwide. With more than 5,000 delegates registered for the conference, that’s an impressive attendance rate of over 10 per cent. While a special daily rate is available to Irish lawyers for the last three days of the conference, overseas visitors will have paid a total weekly registration fee in excess of €2,000, not to mention the cost of flights and accommodation. What is it about the IBA annual conference that draws lawyers in such numbers?

It depends. “Some come to broaden their knowledge of the practice of law in other jurisdictions,” he explains. This category of delegate comes to listen, to learn and to debate, and there’s certainly no shortage of opportunity for this. Over the course of the week, more than 200 sessions, lectures and other events will take place.

While Greene will be too busy to attend all the events he would like to, there are several highlights he’s determined to squeeze in. He’s looking forward to CNN anchor Todd Benjamin’s interview of Patricia O’Brien, United Nations legal counsel, today.

On Thursday, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Prof Muhammad Yunus will be talking about micro-finance, while on Friday Mary Robinson will give a lecture on justice in the context of climate change. (And if all goes according to plan, another highlight for Greene will be his election as chair of the IBA’s legal practices division during the week.)

“Then you have some governments and corporations that send some of their legal staff to the conference to help them understand best practice worldwide,” he adds.

Other lawyers attend the conference primarily to network and obtain referrals from legal firms in other jurisdictions. To this end, more than 1,500 networking meetings and receptions will take place over the coming days, hosted mainly by overseas law firms. Greene says that one firm alone is holding at least 120 such meetings, and has even taken out office space for that purpose.

So how has he found the experience of spearheading such a mammoth event? “It’s been extraordinarily enriching and rewarding,” he says. “I’m having great fun.”

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