President's Blog

Posted: 17 Dec 2015 by William Longrigg

I posted my last ‘blog’ on 26 October so a few busy weeks have passed.  I notice from looking at my diary that on Monday 26 October I was travelling to Hong Kong – and what a journey.  I left my house at 4.30pm on Sunday 25 October and arrived at 11.30am on Tuesday 27 as the flight was cancelled and I had to stay in a hotel at the airport.  I was back in the office by the morning of Friday 30 October after seeing a lot of old IAML friends although I was not there on IAML business.  

The day I got back I had a catch up meeting with my consigliere Rachael Kelsey to try to pull together some strands from matters we have been discussing for some time now and on Tuesday 3 November I had an excellent meeting with Maggie Rae to discuss the education programme for New Delhi which is going to be fantastic.

On Wednesday 4 November I flew to Chicago for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers Annual Conference there.  This was my 7th time and it gets better every year with the more people I know.   The Foundation Reception on Wednesday evening at the University Club was huge fun and I ran into a lot of old friends.   This time there were 2 other Brits there – my friends Simon Bruce and Lisa Lustigman (the latter not strictly a Brit..) - which was great.  After the reception I was invited by Florida fellow Jorge Cestero for an amazing Chicago bone-in ribeye steak with 12 or so other lawyers.   A really lovely evening. 

On the following morning I met up with Jorge Cestero, Elisha Roy from Florida and Peter Buchbauer from Virginia to plan our forthcoming participation in the education programme.  Our slot was Starting a Foreign Affair – a romp through international aspects of family law.  Gary Debele from Minneapolis took me for lunch at my favourite German restaurant, The Berghoff, and we talked about his role on the International Adoption and Arts committees going forward.    I had time to work in the afternoon before the President’s Reception in Pazzo’s which was huge fun.   I was also warmly welcomed afterwards in room 769 by outgoing AAML President Jim  McClaren and his wife Pat, who looked after us really well until late in the evening.  On Friday morning, I had a very interesting meeting with Treasurer Tom Sasser, new IAML fellow Ben Stevens from South Carolina and Nancy Berg with Rachael Kelsey attending by telephone.  We were given a presentation by a social media firm, Good to be Social, who managed to convince me, and the others who had not previously been convinced, that they were able to offer something far more than simply a social media function for our website and are able to change the way that we use and disseminate our information. They would make a big difference to all of us and we will shortly be providing more information about that.  They are already used by AAML. 

After attending the rest of the CLE, I had a very good working lunch with President-Elect Nancy Berg (again in my favourite German restaurant which sadly is not Nancy’s favourite) and worked on my presentation for the rest of the afternoon before attending the fantastic dinner dance.  The theme was “speakeasy” and most people had made a major effort with their costumes.  I sat at Cheryl Hepfer’s table and met a lot of really interesting and very friendly new people.   As always at these events, I feel a great privilege to be one of the only non-Americans attending something which is a fascinating and hugely enjoyable slice of American life.  

 Saturday morning saw our panel session.  Although it was at 8.30am after the main dinner, the room was pretty crowded and I could see that people were actually listening to us rather than sleeping.   I really enjoyed dealing with the issues from the European perspective – divorce jurisdiction, children jurisdiction, finances, service of documents, enforcement, other international issues….  I could see some people smiling when I mentioned Brussels II and a few Americans have said to me on occasions “every time I hear a European talk about Brussels II, my eyes glaze over”.  I am not sure I can blame them.  Simon Bruce also spoke eloquently about his Supreme Court case of Prest.

Saturday evening saw the most fabulous dinner with Joy Feinberg and Greg Brown in their superb apartment.  This has become something of a regular feature for those of us spending Saturday in Chicago and is the best way imaginable to round off our visit.  It was a great crowd there.   Diane Steiner, Simon Bruce, Wendy Crew,  Ric Roane among others.   A real treat.   Back on the daytime flight on Sunday which meant that I could have a proper night’s sleep before getting back into the office on Monday 9 November.

The evening of 12 November saw dinner with Delhi fellow Pinky Anand who is also the Additional Solicitor General of India for the BJP (my Indian agents were SO impressed when I met up with her in Delhi) and was in London as part of the entourage of Prime Minster Narendra Modi who was speaking at a huge rally in Birmingham the following day.   She brought one of her assistants from her practice and her sister and we had a very jolly evening in Joe Allens, one of my favourite busy restaurants in the heart of London theatreland.   We agreed that she would host a dinner on one of the evenings at the Delhi conference to be held in her official residence which is most generous of her.

Tuesday 17 November, I had lunch with Indian fellow Ranjit Malhotra and Maggie Rae.  Ranjit was briefly in London and wanted to talk about the education programme in India which was taking shape.  He has very generously offered to host a drinks reception at the International India centre in New Delhi and he has a lot of great ideas for the education programme.

Monday 23 November saw a long but very fruitful meeting between Anne Marie Hutchinson, Suzanne Kingston, Maggie Rae, Paul Newton (Maggie Rae’s associate) and me, brainstorming about the education programme and symposium in Delhi which left me feeling that it was in very good hands indeed.  

Wednesday 25 November I flew to Berlin for the European Chapter Strategy meeting and the IAML Introduction to European Family Law conference for young lawyers. 

On my arrival in Berlin, we had a wonderful dinner near the hotel and I was able to spend time with Johan Sarvik, Fredric Renstrom, Emma Hatley, Katell Drouet-Bassou, Mia Reich Sjogren, Suzanne Todd and William Healing among others.  The European chapter strategy meeting was extremely well attended and well chaired by Mark Harper.   A lot of important issues were discussed.   We covered subjects such as the role of IAML in becoming involved in the law making process, the extent to which we should be lobbying Brussels and the extent to which we should intervene in either our own Supreme courts or in the European court and whether such an intervention had to be neutral.  There was a lively exchange of ideas.   We also discussed the extent to which IAML should put on events jointly with private organisations.   What came across principally was how everybody was looking forward to this conference in Berlin and what an amazing response there had been.

This conference for younger lawyers came about as a result of my frequent attendance at the annual European Family Law conference in Trier, Germany, along with a number of other IAML fellows.  Although it is an excellent conference, it is geared to some extent to academics and assumes a very significant prior knowledge of European family law and European instruments.   There seemed to be a real need for younger lawyers to be able to obtain good value training on the basics of European family law to help their practices.   We therefore decided that it would be a good idea to host a conference designed to attract non-IAML fellows but hosted by IAML to show that we are theorganisation of practitioners with the range of expertise and knowledge and also to attract the bright young stars of the future and to improve the practice of international family law throughout Europe.  We were not sure what the take-up would be but 129 lawyers attended; many more were on the waiting list but we had limited space.  We started at 2pm on Thursday 26 November and finished on Friday afternoon.   It was a huge success.   The format was that an expert would talk on a particular topic, the pre-selected groups sitting at tables would then discuss questions around it for a while with case studies and individuals with roving mikes would ask specific questions from the delegates or ask them to make points of interest.   It was extremely well organised by William Healing, Katell Drouet-Bassou, Suzanne Todd and Berlin fellow Kerstin Neithammer-Jurgens. They were very ably assisted by Donna and Sarah Lenoir. Many thanks to them for producing a wonderful event.   This will never be in competition with the three IAML meetings each year because it is not designed for IAML fellows, although many fellows attended to offer support (and to learn!).  Many people attending were in their 20s and 30s and were serious and committed family lawyers wanting to find out more about international practice. 24 different jurisdictions were represented which is quite astounding.

The dinners organised on the Thursday  night and the Friday night were enormous fun, particularly on Friday where we went to Clarchens Ballhaus which was a restaurant around an enormous dance floor where relaxed people of all ages and dressed in huge variety of outfits danced to a range of great music. 

After an excellent ‘survivors’ lunch’ in the Gendarmenplatz on Saturday, I arrived home just in time to attend a dinner party in my own home (somewhat tired). 

The week beginning Monday 30th was great for catching up and the week beginning 7 December saw three separate meetings over Tuesday and Wednesday with Donna, Suzanne Todd, Rachael Kelsey, Nancy Berg, Cheryl Hepfer and others to bring as much as possible together from the strategy meeting in Sicily and other initiatives and to allocate tasks to various people.   Time-consuming but satisfying and rewarding.

A lot of work has been done by Donna Goddard in particular on the website and we have been feeding back to her with ideas about the design.   She is also coming to terms with her new management software, Membee, which is proving to be immensely valuable in dealing with dues but providing a few headaches, as predicted, in other areas.  

It is immensely hard work for Donna as she is so busy.  But things are moving fast both for the new website, the new social media initiative, the roll-out of the name change for early in the New Year and the focusing of the various committees.

We are also planning a meeting in Moscow at the end of February to attract local Moscow lawyers and others in the geographical region and to take advantage of the contacts built up by Kerstin Neithammer-Jurgens and Veronique Chauveau as well as our people on the ground, Elga Syukiyaynen and Alain Cornec’s partner Julie Losson, and Russian fellow Catherine Heath.   James Stewart has taken on the mantle and we are immensely grateful to all those who are helping him with meeting venue, hotels, speakers, restaurants and other matters.  

After the huge success of the Berlin meeting, we are hoping to run a similar meeting for young lawyers in  New York in April 2016 and Nancy Berg will be spearheading that with help from our many New York fellows.  It is hoped that young lawyers interested in international work will attend from all over the US.  

Law Asia is holding its annual meeting in Hong Kong from 9th-11th June and the IAML is hosting a surrogacy symposium just before it on 8th June.   This is being masterminded by IAML vice president Winnie Chow (whose second child, Olivia was born on 9th November so many congratulations Winnie), Anne-Marie Hutchinson, Rachael Kelsey, Dennis Ho, Linda Heathfield and apparently me!

In the meantime, Dorothea and I will be visiting India for our second and final recce from 4 January 2016; then I will be making a quick trip to Botswana with Rachael Kelsey where we have a unique opportunity to meet a number of family lawyers from Sub-Saharan Africa thanks to Rachael’s relationship with one of the visiting judges out there (formerly the most senior judge in Scotland who also spoke at the IAML/Hanson Renouf conference in Jersey this year).  Then, and I can hardly wait, we have the Los Angeles meeting from 4 to 8 February 2016.  

So quite a lot to look forward to and quite a lot to do.

In the meantime, Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukah (rather belatedly) and Season’s Greetings!

I look forward to seeing a large number of you in Beverley Hills. 

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