Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Conference Circuit

It has been the conference circuit for me recently. I have done three in as many weeks, which has turned out to be more exhausting than I thought. I'm relieved it's over.

I didn't have to travel far: twice to Onati in the Basque Country and once to Bologna, Italy. I avoided going to the Law & Society Association meeting in Las Vegas

The Onati experiences were quite different. One was a small workshop with about 20 people, the other was the first European Sociology of Law conference with around 170 people. The Onati Institute for the Sociology of Law is a unique institution which teaches a masters in the subject and holds workshops on various topics, such legal profession, research methods, the legal aftermath of war. It is housed in a beautiful 16th century cloister that used to house the original Basque university. It has now been open as the institute for 17 years. Onati itself is a small medieval town halfway between Bilbao and San Sebastian. It's tucked into the hills and resembles Switzerland. It is also one of the homes of the ETA movement.

My workshop was on self-governance in a globalized world, and was divided into two segments; one on the role of lawyers, law firms, and consultants in developing self-sustaining and stable structures for the business of globalization; the second examined the constitution of some of those structures, such as ethical forestry standards. My paper was on the work of large international law firms and the ways in which their status and brand names have the effect of granting an imprimatur to transactions. They sanctify deals. This casts them in a priestly role, or more accurately, a jesuitical role since they are intellectual, cover the world, and proselytize. I have attached a draft of my paper below.

The workshop was an intensive three-day session where we listened to each other, critiqued each other, shared meals, and socialized with each other. That's a long time to spend with other people in that type of situation. It's not really possible to break away and get some time on one's own. Still, it is stimulating and I come away with new ideas and mentally refreshed, though tired.

The conference allowed more individual time and whereas I thought I would give only one paper, I ended up chairing a session, acting as discussant in a couple of sessions, and giving my own paper (lawyers and globalization again). That was tiring, but what made it exhausting and draining was the news that London had won the Olympics and then the bombs exploding in London the next day. It took hours to be able to call my wife, Eleni, who works as a lawyer in the City. A small group of us trying to contact London sat around in a cafe and told stories about the strange members of our families as a way of eking out the hours. Given we were not a representative sample, the bizarre antics of some of our ancestors made one wonder how families can ever be described as a key institution of society. I gave my paper the day after the bombs and I must have been in shock still. My performance became rather theatrical in some ways: it was a way of releasing tension. One or two asked if I was a barrister or indulged in theatre. Neither is the case.

In between these two meetings I had a seminar in Bologna. No more than 10 or so people discussing the ways courts allocate cases among judges. (I mentioned this in the "Deadlines" blog, Monday 16 May.) What perplexed me more than anything else was the stark difference between the UK and the rest of Europe. In the UK as and when judges finish cases, they are given another--no empty courts, no empty judges. The cases even out, some difficult and some easier. It's ad hoc and piecemeal. In mainland Europe it is far more bureaucratic. Each year the court determines for the next year what kinds of cases each judge in the court will try. Difficulty, complexity, easiness are spread evenly throughout the judges of the court. In Italy, the Council of the Judiciary has to approve these plans and often requires changes. Sometimes the plans are not approved until after the court year has begun, so the courts operate with no plans. It gets very confusing. The prime aim is to prevent corruption in the allocation of cases to judges favoured over others. And so the wheels of justice grind exceedingly slowly... Moreover, the UK report described a court system that seemed byzantine compared to the others. And there I agree. It is based on a series of reforms in the 19th century that haven't been revisited systematically.

Now I am back in London, there is no more travel for a while and I can devote my time to writing and teaching a summer school for the University of Miami Law School on "Global Lawyering", which is generally fun and the students make an interesting change of personality to English ones.
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