Australian Tech Spirit
The IBA Annual Conference takes place every year in a different part of the world. Sydney, Australia was the one-week venue on 8-13 October for the first time. The remote continent appeared to be very mature and technologically advanced, while the Australian legal services market is highly competitive and saturated by major international powerhouses. The Sydney location determined a lot of interest in the Asia-Pacific region, and reshaped traditional professional discussions throughout somewhat different angles.
Compared to past years, the number of Ukrainian delegates was not that big and included partners of such law firms as Asters, Arzinger, Sayenko Kharenko, SKG Attoneys at Law, RULG — Ukrainian Legal Group. Moreover, Ukrainian Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko was invited by the IBA to present the outcomes of legal aid reform in Ukraine.
At the opening ceremony Martin Šolc, IBA President, spoke of the challenges that have arisen before the legal profession. He noted that it’s crucial to change the public perception of lawyers. “The lawyer is today seen as greedy, selfish, unethical. And we are supporting that with the legal media creating stars among lawyers, which has replaced traditional modesty of the profession”. He touched upon the issue of rule of law, adding: “My suggestion is that we go back to our communities. And that we start explaining to ordinary people that rule of law is not a fantastic concept that academics discuss about. But that is their everyday life”.
Traditionally, the opening ceremony was marked by messages from outstanding officials of the host country. Susan Kiefel AC, Chief Justice of Australia, raised the groundbreaking importance of the independence of the legal profession and inadmissibility of any pressure. Senator George Brandis, Attorney General for Australia, continued that rule of law should not be taken as a compromise to existing challenges.
Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and rather controversial figure of the last couple of years, spoke by videolink, from the embassy of Ecuador in London. The world-renowned refugee is seeking to avoid extradition to the US after the scandal revealing thousands of documents, and at the IBA address called world media toxic. According to Mr. Assange, there is an information asymmetry between journalist and reader that results in a knowledge gap. He suggested that the number of credible media outlets in the Western world is only around two percent.
Despite an extremely diverse program, technologies and artificial intelligence, cyber-security, data protection, latest world policy changes and their footprint, were among the most memorable topics at this IBA.
According to many delegates whom we asked, one of the key topics in Sydney was artificial intelligence (AI). Investment in AI is not so elusive or far off in the future. The global legal market confirms it’s the defining moment for law firms to invest in AI, which may well solve the biggest problem of management — serving time and money, and changing the way legal services are delivered. So embracing technological changes is strategically important to retain leadership positions.
Chat-boat technologies are widely discussed and used by law firms. Among the recent successful examples are Canadian application Legalswipe, which offers general legal advice to people randomly stopped and questioned by police, and Chatboat DoNotPay that helps people appeal against parking fines. Among the challenges of AI implementation are ethics and professional responsibility, data protection and confidentiality. The major concern sounded by Martin Šolc is whether AI really can ensure access to justice.
The broader public attention has been drawn to technological developments in Fintech. It is quite lucrative for absorbing disruptive innovations in order to increase competitiveness by reaching operational efficiency. The fintech industry obviously brings benefits to consumers but also changes the landscape of the financial industry, it was argued at one of the sessions in Sydney. High cost operations inside banks determine the application of technologies and cooperation with fintech companies, which can focus on solving shared solutions to financial services providers.
Data protection and information leaks are a big challenge for the global legal business. Cyber-security, cyber-attacks and cyber-crime are all relatively new areas of concern that Ukraine met just recently from attacks that took place in summer. Business ethics, confidentiality of client relationships appeared on the one hand, while freedom of media and transparency — on the other. At the dedicated session the leak known as the Panama papers became a precedent that provoked a discussion of interaction of legality and ethics, electronic crime against law firms. In response to growing threats, demand for digital security providers is being seen as is the reaction of states to electronic crimes.
Trade policy issues remained in the focus of the IBA, as the US Presidential Administration has a new course towards applying restrictions unilaterally and ignoring WTO rules. The new approach of the US may undermine the WTO system of commitments that prevent countries from acting unilaterally, said Michael Froman, a former US trade representative.
The consequences of Brexit for the financial centers and economies of Asia-Pacific region may be positive. The financial centers of Hong Kong and Singapore will enhance their importance, while the Western centers will undergo regulatory changes. The main concern as to the UK’s departure is uncertainty, which needs to be minimized.
A special dedicated session covered legal aid. Ukrainian Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko presented the results of four years of legal aid reform. The Ukrainian experience is based on successful practice in Canada and some states of the US. “On average legal aid in criminal cases is rendered 70,000 times. Thanks to the work of the legal aid system, we receive 500-600 acquittals a year. Under other circumstances, the suspects would have been unlawfully convicted. This is our most important achievement,” he said.
The next IBA Annual will be hosted in Rome, 7-12 October 2018. According to preliminary information, over 9,000-10,000 delegates may come to Italy next year. So it’s already the best time to examine ideas about your receptions and book the best locations.
Markian Malskyy, partner, Arzinger
The IBA Annual Conference is a huge thing in the legal world and many lawyers wish to participate in this event. I got to go to my first IBA conference quite some years ago thanks to a scholarship from the IBA, and now I encourage my young colleagues to apply for these scholarships and acquire this great experience.
IBA Annual Conferences are very interesting as their programs have a broad spectrum of panels that you can choose from, which are adoptable and useful for your own career. This gives you the possibility to meet professionals from other countries who can share their experience and tell how the legal profession is developing in their countries.
For me and my partners this conference was also a great platform for networking and establishing new contacts. As this year’s event took place in distant from us Australia, there was an expectation that the majority of participants would be from the Asia-Pacific region. It was very interesting for us to make acquaintances with lawyers from countries like Japan, China, South Korea etc. as their legal market is different from ours and we can use their experience in our development.
As I already had good experience from attending IBA Annual Conferences, this year I was more thoroughly prepared. This means I had to prioritize panels and social events I wanted to attend and I did this with the understanding what would be interesting for me and useful for my company. It is not always good to get a huge pile of business cards by saying “hello” to everyone, but it is definitely good to stand out from a crowd and make people remember you.
Furthermore, my partners and I had determined a very important purpose not only for our firm, but also for our country, namely to promote Ukraine as a stable and investment attractive business location. In this matter we prepared a special video about Ukraine and brochures with interesting facts and statistics proving the attractiveness of Ukraine.
A hike to distant lands or Why does Australia need so many lawyers?
Leonid Tolstov, partner, TGS Baltic
The Annual IBA Conference has, for me, stopped being a long party. At some point, the afternoon program becomes more exciting and intriguing than its nocturnal alternative. I cheer myself up that this should be wisdom, although different opinions prevail.
I am sure that while choosing the venue of the next annual conference, IBA management will take into account a large number of factors, but not the least of them is the tourist attractiveness of a place that becomes the legal capital of the planet for almost a week. In some sense it compensated for the remoteness of Australia and attracted 4,500 colleagues, most of whom are keen travelers.
IBA Annual generally runs from Sunday to Friday at the end of September-October, occupying the largest conference center in the host city. Some 15 to 25 sessions take place simultaneously, targeting issues of industry specialization, public interest and law firm management. In breaks one can have a lunch with colleagues or listen to an outstanding representative of the legal profession or just an interesting speaker, presented by the IBA as a special guest. This year, on the sidelines, the most popular among delegates was a Skype call with Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, expectedly riddled with revelations. It’s a good old tradition to invite bright and important public speakers and the IBA does pay special attention to that.
One of the key features of the Sydney conference, as well as the others, is that it’s practice-oriented. This applies to any topic, whether it would be a project financing for renewable energy or designing a law firm of the future. General at a first glance arguments relating to the rule of law concept often receive a tangible realization. For example, in the form of regulatory documents of so-called soft law — recommendations, guidelines, etc. And despite this, the Sydney conference couldn’t be called a copycat of any of its annual predecessors. The reason for this is the popped in future, which has been discussed a lot at the previous conferences, in which one could not believe and which was postponed and denied in every possible way. The schedule was overloaded with topics of cybercrime, legaltech, blockchain, regression of traditional business models, etc. The most mentioned person of the Sydney IBA Annual would be remembered as His Majesty the Artificial Intelligence. The feeling of backwardness pursued and did not let go: colleagues from Europe, Asia, America and Australia and even from Africa seriously discussed professional regulatory issues in a changed modern environment. Questions on the agenda: how to regulate the responsibility of legal services aggregators for the performance of lawyers, whether to allow (and if allowed, how to regulate) non-legal legal service providers to the professional market, how to deal with the legal platforms Rocketlawyer and Legalzoom, which are already active on this market, and so forth. In general, the trend for the future of the legal profession is not so much different from the future of financial services: banks are gradually becoming back offices for fintech companies. With the development of blockchain and artificial intelligence technologies all-round commoditization of those legal services is expected, which still constitute a significant part of the incomes of traditional law firms. Smart solutions that enable the outsourcing of a significant part of standard due diligence work to programs and non-legal personnel are already booming on the market, robots are drafting simple contracts. Before long they’ll be able to complete a document started by a human. Electronic justice is becoming a popular topic for discussion. That means that the future, where legally binding decisions will be taken by a program code, and crimes are investigated by electronic detectives, is knocking at the door. Speakers talked about the greatly reduced time for response and adaptation: a new event or discovery requiring a regulatory reaction that can have a significant impact on the profession and business takes place approximately every half year.
A record number of delegates are expected to descend on Rome next year, and the collective mind will decide on how to deal with the artificial one. Join us, it’s going to be interesting!
Setting industry standards
Nazar Chernyavsky, partner, Sayenko Kharenko, IBA officer (IBA Technology Committee)
This year the IBA Annual Meeting took place in one of the most exotic locations you can imagine, Sydney, Australia. This already made the conference less of a usual networking hub and more of a gathering of individuals devoted to the legal profession. This time, only about 4,500 participants as opposed to the usual 8,000-10,000 made it to Australia. However, the sessions at the conference were even more exciting, as the world faced a number of new challenges over the last year, which now affect the legal profession too. Apart from the rule of law issues and major geopolitical developments, which were outlined at the very opening of the conference, lawyers also discussed such interesting topics as the role of artificial intelligence in the new economy and legal industry in particular, use of big data as well as regulation of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. It is becoming more and more evident that laws cannot avoid infiltration by technology, and even such conservative practice areas as arbitration, M&A and energy give rise to a number of topics involving modern technologies.
One of the sessions I was involved in personally was dedicated to the use of AI in the legal profession, and some of the speakers were suggesting that law firms would be slowly evolving towards becoming technology companies. In my own view, new generation lawyers would require new skills and would rather focus on communications with clients than on reviewing agreements or performing due diligence of client documents. We have to be prepared for even judges one day being replaced by machines, which would apply the laws compiled by AI.
As an officer of the IBA Technology Committee, I can tell you at this stage already that we will see even more topics involving technology at next year’s IBA Annual Meeting, which is scheduled for Rome. For instance, it has been suggested that an entire day is dedicated to AI and its implications in all areas of law, and one of the central topics next year would be cybersecurity and the setting of industry standards for law firms in that particular field.
A special lifetime experience
Leonid Tolstov, partner, TGS Baltic
This year’s IBA annual meeting in Sydney was a little bit different due to the long distance. It meant many colleagues based in Europe did not come and are probably looking forward to next year’s IBA in Rome. However, the conference was still big enough and the entire week was packed with meetings, sessions and social events. Moreover Australia is, for our part of the world, very special, so visiting Sydney is a lifetime experience. Many colleagues seemed to have combined the conference with their holidays and intended to take spend some time in other places dotted around Australia.
IBA 2017 was well organised and logistically convenient. ICC Sydney, where all the sessions were held, is located very centrally, by Darling Harbour. Basically, one did not need to use any public transportation and everything was situated within walking distance.
A very special IBA social event was organised by our Finnish colleagues, who were celebrating the centenary of Finland’s independence. Unlike many other events this was not a marketing event of a particular law firm. All participating Finnish law firms organised this event in unison and in order to ensure there were was no preference given to anyone no banners were in sight and not even a single public speech was given.
As always, a major concern of many colleagues was tough competition and price dumping. Newcomers are willing to offer ridiculous fees which cannot be seen as a sustainable business model. On the other hand, many European countries are currently enjoying economic growth and this provides a steady flow of work, which is generally seen as positive.
The Ukrainian delegation was on this occasion smaller than before. However, Ukrainian colleagues meet the eye internationally very well. One reason for this may be the lack of local clientele, which has prompted a chase for international clients. It seems that Ukrainian colleagues have done a great deal to introduce their country to foreign investment. On the bright side, several Ukrainian colleagues I met claimed that structural reforms are continuing and positive changes on several levels can be seen. I can agree with that based on my own experience, since Baltic business has started to return to Ukraine.
The impact of the IBA cannot be overestimated. It brings together thousands of legal practitioners together annually, which is a superb platform for exchanging experience, knowledge and contacts. Sadly, the initial idea to offer an extensive palette of sessions has been changed mainly into business networking and many colleagues did not visit a single session during the IBA week. However, lawyers are practical people and strive to get the most benefit out of the IBA.
Sebastian Mahr, partner, PHH Rechtsanwälte (Austria)
The IBA is an event that we never miss. We have attended for many years, we acted as host when at the IBA was held in Vienna and we will be there again next year. What makes the IBA so special is the idea of holding the conference in a different location every year and the fact that the IBA is visited not only by the big players but also by small and medium-sized independent law firms.
Digitization is certainly one of the hottest topics in the legal profession. It has created a new market that requires a new or adapted range of services from law firms. Another hot topic at the IBA was automation. The discussion of the extent to which special software can replace investigation by lawyers is exciting, controversial and emotional. But we will have to deal with the fact that automation will change our profession. Those who do not keep up will have to face a decisive competitive disadvantage in the future.
One of the topics that I found most fascinating was the panel “law firm of the future”. How can law firms train the next generation so that young lawyers will be prepared for the law firm of the future? We at PHH Rechtsanwälte have been discussing this topic for many years. I think that the legal profession currently finds itself at a crossroads. Increasing digitization is causing more and more fundamental changes to our profession. Clients have also become more critical when choosing a lawyer. They are increasingly looking for a strategic partner to advise them on the legal aspects of company decisions or even personal decisions. In addition to first-rate consultancy services, there is also an increasing demand for comprehensive support. In this respect, we need to rethink our attitudes towards client service and implement improvements.
IBA means hard work, but it is worth it. Where else will you find so many colleagues from so many countries gathered in one place? In addition to the professional input at the conference, the decisive success factors at IBA include the international network, exchanges with colleagues about current trends and contact management. Despite our size, which is comparatively small by international standards, we are internationally active not only in the M&A business and in the area of white-collar crime and internal investigations, but also in litigation. We need personal contacts with other countries and with foreign law firms to provide our clients with all-round services. At the same time, international contacts are an important incentive towards broadening our horizons and identifying trends in other countries, for example in the area of business development.
Ukraine is a very lively market, mainly in the area of IP, arbitration, white-collar crime and real estate. What I realized at the IBA is the considerable demand in Ukraine for foreign investment. Since Austria has traditionally had a stable economic link with Ukraine, this is quite an interesting market for the Austrian real estate sector and, of course, for law firms like ourselves that have a strong focus on Eastern Europe.