President's Blog

Posted: 3 Jun 2015 by William Longrigg

My last blog was posted on Wednesday 4th February so a lot has happened since then. 

On 6th February I had an interview with ZDF, one of the main German TV channels, who wanted to speak to the IAML President about international divorces!  This was an interesting experience but, as far as I am aware, it has not yet been broadcast.   I gave the IAML a good plug.  Happily, they did not ask me to conduct the interview in German.  

On 9th February, James Stewart, Rachael Kelsey, Marilyn Stowe and I had breakfast to discuss PR.   In particular, we concentrated on the necessity to have a far higher profile on social media.   James Stewart has loyally been tweeting on behalf of IAML and many IAML fellows and others are following him.   Nancy Berg and James are also very active on Facebook.  Marilyn Stowe has a very successful blog which she has been kind enough to use to publicise a lot of IAML events and initiatives.   Inevitably we talked about adapting the website to be much more user-friendly in terms of social media.  

On Thursday 12th February, I set off for Vienna to join  vice-president Mia Reich-Sjögren and Viennese fellow Alfred Kriegler. We were there to attend the Annual Conference of the Presidents of the European Bar Associations.   Alfred has been many times as it is always in Vienna; Mia has attended three times and I have attended twice before.  We handed out the invaluable IAML brochures, spoke at length to delegates from many European countries and have followed up the contacts we made, particularly with a view to accessing delegates from unrepresented and under-represented jurisdictions.  This has proved very successful in the past.  It was from this conference two years ago that  Mia first made contact with Hungarian family lawyer Andrea Szucs through whom we recruited our first Hungarian fellow, Soma Kölcsényi. Through him we organised our European Family Law meeting in Budapest June 2014.  That meeting attracted a significant number of potential Fellows from under-represented jurisdictions, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.   That also led to the choice of Budapest as the venue for Cheryl Hepfer’s hugely successful September 2014 meeting when it was moved from Jerusalem at the eleventh hour.

In Vienna we stayed with and were looked after so generously by Alfred and Andrea Kriegler (we had our spouses with us too!) and they could not have been kinder.   We also attended, as part of this, the annual “Juristenball”, the main legal event of the social calendar in Austria, and possibly in Europe, which is a white tie ball held in the Royal Palace of Vienna.  Pretty amazing - although my waltz could do with some serious improvement.  

Back on 15th February to London to a lot of telephone meetings about the website which is a major issue for IAML, bearing in mind that Chapter 8, our website providers, have gone into liquidation and the website is now being managed by another organisation.  This is the time for us to make important decisions about whether to have a complete rebranding exercise, the extent to which we significantly improve the administrative capacity on the website and exactly what it is that we as an organisation require for the future.   These discussions have been taking a lot of time and Tom Sasser, Donna, Nancy Berg and I have been ably assisted by Andy Lambert, Cheryl Hepfer’s son-in-law, and Jim Louis who is known to many as the son of Barb Louis the US Chapter Executive Director. The website is being kept going very successfully for the time being so there are no immediate concerns but this is nevertheless something we need to address now.

On 23rd February I had a very welcome dinner in London with New Delhi fellow Pinky Anand together with her assistant.  She was over for a conference and it was a good opportunity to talk about plans for the New Delhi meeting in September 2016.  

On Monday 2nd March, I flew to Geneva to visit my firm’s Geneva office and  to meet potential new IAML fellows introduced by my Geneva legal partner Michael Wells-Greco, including two who are very keen to join IAML and were extremely interested in the forthcoming surrogacy symposium.

On Wednesday 11th March I left for Cape Town for the South Africa Family Law Conference.  This is an annual conference organised by IAML fellow Zenobia du Toit and the University of The Western Cape.  It is an excellent opportunity to meet non-fellows from South Africa and others from other parts of Africa.  These are exactly the people we want to target.   Various other IAML fellows attended including IAML secretary Rachael Kelsey from Scotland, Barbara Connolly QC from England and Sir Peter Singer from England as well as the South African fellows. All IAML fellows wore their IAML ribbons on their badges and it was an excellent opportunity to raise our profile.   Rachael Kelsey, Barbara Connolly and I all had speaking slots, mine on international family law issues from an IAML perspective.   Rachael Kelsey and I followed up the delegates afterwards.  Cheryl Hepfer had attended the previous year and I had attended the same conference two years ago.

On my return I had a very fruitful meeting with Maggie Rae on 19th March to discuss the education programme for New Delhi where I am hoping that, in addition to the main education during the meeting itself, we will have a full day symposium on the Tuesday to attract local lawyers (and anybody else who wishes to come out early for the symposium).    We have a lot of ideas!

On 20th March I had a long conversation with a Norwegian lawyer in the hope that she might be interested in joining IAML.  The Norwegians have proved very elusive and we could really do with some representation! I live in hope….

Tuesday 24th March was the flight out to Seville to attend the European Chapter meeting there.    The only word to describe this meeting is “superb”.  Mark Harper and his partner Hari put on a magnificent show.   The hotel was marvellous, the weather was great, the trips were fascinating and a huge success and they had chosen some great venues for our entertainment.  Alberto Cedillo had masterminded the education programme which was very interactive and extremely informative.   Everything went as well as it could and Mark and Hari deserve every congratulation.  Seville was an inspired choice and happened to be the same venue and the same hotel as an IAML meeting 20 years ago.   Some of the founding fellows got together, invited by Werner Martens, for an informal lunch to remember the occasion and Mark and I were invited. 

The architecture of Seville, and Cordoba where we had a day trip, was mind-blowing and I am sure this meeting will always be remembered by all who attended.  

Then came Easter with a bit of a break  and back in time for the joint conference on 10th April held by AIJA (the Association of Young Lawyers) and the ABA (American Bar Association) Family Law Section on “The high net worth same sex family: going global”.  I had been invited by IAML fellow Anna Worwood who heads the Private Client section of AIJA to say a few words about IAML, bearing in mind that AIJA does not have members over the age of 45.  English fellow William Healing had already done quite a good job of publicising IAML before I arrived, but I was given an opportunity to say a few more words and, indeed, to meet quite a lot of people from around the world who were very interested in IAML.   IAML highly values the association it has with AIJA and looks forward to working with the organisation in future.  

The following Friday, 17th April, I attended another conference in Brighton, that of Resolution, the English family law solicitors’ organisation.   This was extremely well attended and I was invited to speak on a panel on pre-nuptial agreements arranged by PLC, the publisher owned by our generous sponsors Thomson Reuters who will also be sponsoring the Sicily meeting.  

Over the next couple of weeks Rachael Kelsey, Suzanne Kingston and I worked on the survey shortly to go out to IAML fellows.   This is in preparation for the IAML Strategy Day which the Executive Committee will be taking part in on the Tuesday before the AGM in Sicily.   Many thanks to the Executive Committee for agreeing to go out a day early to spend 8 hours in discussion with other lawyers in a darkened room!  I have asked London fellow Suzanne Kingston to facilitate this as she has a huge amount of experience in training family lawyers in collaborative law, arbitration and other areas.  

On Tuesday 5th May I flew out to Zurich for a party at my firm’s Zurich office and the following day to Geneva for the party at our Geneva office.   In Zurich I was able to chat to IAML fellows Daniel Trachsel and Margarita Bortolani and to introduce them to some of my own contacts.   On Wednesday 6th May in Geneva I was happy to see fellow Alain Berger and a number of other family lawyers.

On my return to the office on 7th May (the day of our general election!) I was delighted to host at our office Rachael Kelsey and two of her colleagues who were giving up their time in order to assist with the preparation of a very exciting initiative.  At Anne-Marie Hutchinson’s suggestion, the IAML intervened in a UK Supreme Court case, In the matter of AR (Children) (Scotland).  The case was to do with the significance of parental intention in the determination of habitual residence of a child in a Hague application. Rachael Kelsey masterminded this, Tim Scott QC prepared the application for the court, Ed Freedman from Israel, as Chair of the Amicus Committee, put a lot of the information together and provided in addition the Israel and US contributions.   The application was made on paper but took a great deal of work. We were given permission to intervene to provide information from various jurisdictions on how these issues are dealt with.  Lord Wilson – a founding fellow of IAML as Nicholas Wilson QC – praised IAML for our contribution and said how useful this sort of information would be in the future. An email was sent out to all fellows on 20th May and Donna had a very large number of enthusiastic responses from our fellows!    Many, many thanks to all the contributors.                                    

On the same day as my return, 7th May, the Paris law firm CBBC held a seminar in London jointly with IAML on Sharia Law and the Child.  This was the first of two evening seminars, the second on 25th June being to do with Sharia Law and Spouses.   The speakers at this evening conference were IAML fellows Teertha Gupta QC, Diana Hamade from Dubai and Véronique Chauveau.   We also heard from Salema Jahangir, a colleague of Anne-Marie Hutchinson, and Pauline Deschamps, a colleague of Véronique Chauveau and Charlotte Butruille Cardew at CBBC.  This was a brilliant evening and focused on exactly the international issues that IAML wishes to explore.    Many thanks in particular to Dubai fellow Diana Hamade for coming especially from Dubai to speak at this event and telling us about how the system works in her country.   It was eye-opening.

On Saturday 9th May I spoke at the Annual Conference of the Family Law Bar Association, invited by the current Chair Susan Jacklin QC.   I was very happy to share the platform with former IAML President Ian Kennedy who made one of his very frequent guest appearances at this conference and with Jens Sherpe, associate fellow from Cambridge University.  Many other IAML fellows were there.   I was invited to speak on the comparison with the way spousal maintenance is dealt with in various European jurisdictions and my IAML colleagues came up trumps with the information.

As if our intervention in the Supreme Court hearing in May was not exciting enough, the long-heralded Surrogacy Symposium was held from 18th to 19th May in the offices of my firm, with a welcome reception on the Sunday evening of 17th May.   President-elect Nancy Zalusky Berg and her husband Brock came to stay with us from Thursday 14th May.   I was a little nervous that we would not have great numbers and a couple of the speakers pulled out at the last minute, but I was amazed on the Sunday evening when the welcome reception was attended by around 60 individuals from around the world, all of whom were very enthusiastic about the idea and the reality of a surrogacy symposium bringing together so many people from all these jurisdictions.  It was a sunny evening with delicious food and drink and lovely views from the terrace over London.

The symposium itself was a huge success.  More than 30 jurisdictions were represented which must be the best representation for any surrogacy conference that has ever happened.  Everyone engaged and everyone contributed.   We issued press releases and had very good write-ups in The Times and The Guardian, major British national newspapers. Mrs Justice Theis, the High Court judge in London who deals with most of these applications, gave the keynote speech.   This event sprang from the surrogacy symposium which had been organised for the Jerusalem 2014 meeting but which was pulled.   We were determined to go with the momentum and run it as a standalone event and thank goodness we persevered as all the delegates hugely appreciated it.   A very significant thank you needs to go to all the speakers and all the delegates who supported this symposium by paying the registration fee and travelling to London.   The costs were kept low as I was able to prevail upon my partners at Charles Russell Speechlys to allow us to use our main meeting room at no charge and the welcome reception and the lunch were charged at cost so the registration fee was only $150 for early birds and $175 for later registrants. There were around 90 people registered and most stayed for the whole symposium which brought together some of the best and most experienced practitioners from around the world.   Huge thanks go to Nancy Berg and Anne-Marie Hutchinson who put the programme together and contacted many of the delegates and to Anne-Marie’s daughter Catherine who did a lot of the practical side.   My ever-patient PA Joanna organised everything that happened on the ground in my office which took a great burden away from me!

This is another example of the kind of thing IAML needs to be more involved in: bringing talent and expertise and training opportunities together to have an influence over important worldwide family law issues. This raises our profile as the “go-to” organisation on international family law issues. I was touched to see how much individuals were prepared to contribute to this, and not just IAML fellows but others who have a deep interest in international family law. We prepared a press release and I had an interview on BBC Radio London.

In the background, we have been discussing timings of meetings, website, the hotel contract for New Delhi (now signed at last). It was useful to be able to speak to Ranjit Malhotra who spoke at the symposium about his plans to help with the New Delhi meeting. Of course, we have also been finalising details for the meeting in Sicily 2015 which are now up on the website. Just getting all that together takes days! I have been kept informed – to a degree – of the forthcoming education programme in Sicily and I am assured – reassured even -  by the organisers (Helen Ward, Johan Sarvik, Fredric Renström and Max Meyer) that it will be extraordinarily good .

It has been an exceptionally busy time but hugely rewarding.  The support from IAML fellows, particularly Rachael Kelsey and also Cheryl Hepfer and Nancy Berg and of course from Donna and Joanna has been overwhelming.

I will try to do a much shorter ‘blog’ next time!

Looking forward to seeing many of you in Québec City next week. Don’t forget to book for Taormina, Sicily for September.

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