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12 May 2020

International Bar Association pulls plug on 2020 Miami annual conference

Gathering of 6,000 lawyers moves online as news emerges of vice president's resignation

By Ben Rigby

The IBA's 2022 conference will now take place in Miami after the decision to cancel this year's physical event Shutterstock

The International Bar Association (IBA) has cancelled its 2020 annual conference, which was due to be held in Miami in early November, due to disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The event — which attracts around 6,000 delegates annually — will now be substituted by a series of virtual events.

The next annual conference will be held, as scheduled, from 17-21 October 2021 in Paris, with the Miami event moving to 30 October to 4 November 2022. 

News of the cancellation was communicated in an email to members by current IBA president, Brazilian Horacio Bernardes Neto, and IBA executive director, London-based Mark Ellis.

‘With so much uncertainty in the world, we have made the decision to move the Miami conference,’ they said. 

‘For this current year, we are now turning our attention to creating a unique and dynamic virtual annual conference to take place during the month of November.’

The move comes amid an unexpected departure from the IBA’s leadership team: it has emerged that last month leading Canadian lawyer James Klotz, of Miller & Thompson, resigned from the post of vice president, left the IBA’s management board and withdrew his nomination to be the next president.

The IBA confirmed Klotz’s departure, but declined to give a reason for it.

In their email, Neto and Ellis said the pandemic represented ‘the biggest challenge the association has ever faced’ adding that the IBA’s collective response would, in part, define the organisation. 

‘Rest assured, we will weather this storm,’ they added, noting that the IBA had moved much of its events programme online via both webinars and the expansion of its digital content including the IBA’s response to the pandemic, bringing together work from across the various practice area constituencies and departments.

Given an attendance of thousands, postponement of the event, one of the largest meetings of lawyers in the world, will have significant financial implications for the IBA, although both Neto and Ellis said the IBA’s strong financial reserves, as well as staff and member support, would enable it to continue its work.

The announcement comes as the United States grapples with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the US tally of reported cases currently saneding at 1.38 million.

International travel bans remain in force by the US from many leading legal jurisdictions, including China, the vast majority of EU nations, the United Kingdom, the Baltic States and others. 

Some states, including Florida, are considering relaxations to current state-wide stay at home orders. Florida’s death rate from Covid-19, however, is expected to hit their apex in July, and continue into August, according to a model produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The postponement, the first ever, will mark a disappointing end to Neto’s two-year term as president, following the successful annual conference in Seoul in 2019. 

He will be succeeded in Paris by Zimbabwean lawyer, and former co-chair of the IBA’s Human Rights Institute, Stern ford Moyo, who had mounted a challenge against Klotz in a move that would have triggered a contested vote had Klotz not stepped down. Moyo will be the first African lawyer to lead the IBA.

Current secretary general Almudena Arpón de Mendívil, a partner at Spanish firm Gómez-Acebo & Pombo, will step up to vice president.

Other legal events to be rescheduled include the International Council for Commercial Arbitration’s biannual congress in Edinburgh, now moved from May 2020 to February 2021, and London International Disputes Week, moved from September 2020 to May 2021.

On 30 April, the American Bar Association voted to replace its 2020 Annual Meeting, which was scheduled to take place in Chicago from 29 July - 4 August, into an online virtual meeting. 

The IBA’s Miami conference was due to take place from 1- 6 November 2020 — the same week as the US presidential elections.

Further reading on the Covid-19 pandemic

After Covid-19, client tensions that pre-existed the pandemic will become intolerable — Law firms banking on a return to the old way of doing business once the immediate crisis is over are doomed, argues Rob Millard

Under lockdown socialising between international colleagues has increased — Colin Passmore outlines the measures Simmons & Simmons has been taking to promote staff wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis

After Covid-19 lockdown will virtual arbitrations become the new normal? — Michela D'Avino and Bahaa Ezzelarab argue that remote arbitration hearings should be carefully considered as an option to avoid costly delays

A question of timing: the different responses of US and UK elite law firms to Covid-19 — Looming decisions over associate pay and bonuses are a factor in the timing of UK law firm Coronavirus measures

Above all, this crisis too will pass — Rob Millard foresees large law firm mergers and accelerated digitisation in the wake of Covid-19

'It is about being proactive and decisive' — Norton Rose Fulbright EMEA managing partner Peter Scott on the thinking behind the firm's flexible working scheme

General counsel braced for six-month shock to their businesses, survey finds — MoFo poll of 110 GCs finds them making unprecedented decisions as HR issues dominate

'Now is the time for law firms to deliver on their stated values' — Consultant Tony Williams advises law firm leaders to avoid knee jerk decisions and go into communication overdrive during the Covid-19 crisis

Unprecedented response to Covid-19 is 'testament to legal profession's resilience — Stewart Salwin is impressed by how quickly the Arizona courts have adapted to the coronavirus crisis

Staff welfare, supply chain and privacy: the coronavirus-related issues keeping GCs awake at night  — Linklaters, Baker McKenzie and Ropes & Gray have published the most sought-after briefings, according to Lexology

'I have realised how powerful technology now is': an Italian lawyer's take on Covid-19 — The lockdown is forcing Italians to embrace digitisation - and that even includes its public officials, writes Gabriella Geatti

Coronavirus risk may be unprecedented, but the fundamental principles of crisis response still apply — Crisis PR specialist Bethaney Durkin advises law firms impacted by the coronavirus to act quickly while avoiding a kneejerk response

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