Reviewing The International Bar Association Conference

Having just returned from the International Bar Association’s Annual Conference in Tokyo, Japan, my mind is spinning from the amazing work being done by lawyers around the world. You may not be familiar with the International Bar Association (IBA).  The IBA is an organization that acts as an international body for lawyers, bar associations, and law societies, with a membership of 55,000 individual lawyers and 206 bar associations and law societies spanning all continents.

The IBA’s many volunteer committees and groups fall under two main umbrellas, the Legal Practice Division and the Public and Professional Interest Division. A lawyer can easily find a group that focuses on a topic for which they have a passion. Topics as diverse as Power Law, Aviation Law, International Trade in Legal Services, and War Crimes all have groups studying and discussing these issues. If you’ve ever attended one of their conferences, you can also attest to the global reach of the IBA.

I returned from this conference with a stack of business cards from lawyers in Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Palestine, Korea, Poland, and many other countries. (Pro-tip: bring lots of business cards to IBA events. Everyone asks for one.)  I’ve lived in many multicultural cities, but the melting pot of the IBA is something that has to be experienced. One of the most impressive parts of the IBA’s efforts, is their members’ deep passion for lawyers’ role in improving the world.

There are several initiatives carried by IBA members that seek to make meaningful impacts in the lives of people around the world.  Each of these was given a showcase event, each day of the week. The issues tackled by the IBA throughout the year get a chance to report on their progress. The showcase sessions covered important topics like:

Each session brought together a panel of lawyers from around the world.  They brought their expert opinions on how legal professionals are helping tackle these difficult issues. From helping shape policy to representing damaged parties, these lawyers are supporting the rule of law through their practices.

They are doing the hard work of creating and enforcing accountability around the world. This year saw the release of the impressive 240-page report,  Achieving Justice and Human Rights in an Era of Climate Disruption, from IBA’s Task Force on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights. The report assesses the severe challenges currently facing national and international legal regimes, and outlines concrete steps for reform to create climate change justice structures to protect and preserve environmental and human rights.

More than 50 recommendations are made in the report on how to achieve “climate change justice.” The Report’s key recommendations include:

  • Legal recognition for a new universal human right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment;
  • Creation of a new international dispute resolution structure for climate change issues, including a new specialist International Court on the Environment—and in the interim, for States to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and, in arbitrations, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague;
  • Greening bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements to include state and investor party obligations to comply with environmental laws, climate change commitments and to provide precedence to environmental and climate friendly laws over conflicting trade measures;
  • The issuing of World Trade Organisation guidelines reassuring states that trade-related measures motivated by climate concerns will not fall foul of WTO trading rules, and that economic subsidies be rebalanced in favour of climate-friendly technologies and against fossil fuels;
  • Inclusion of a cumulative carbon budget in the United Nations Climate Change Multilateral Framework to achieve a 2°C temperature rise limit;
  • Increasing corporate responsibility to recognise how climate change impacts human rights and to implement policies to achieve greater environmental awareness and greater corporate/regulator liaison on group-wide greenhouse gas measurement, reporting, and disclosure; and
  • Using the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process to highlight climate justice concerns for developing countries before a broad audience.

For many people, work like this is why we went to law school. Utilizing the rule of law to help people through complex challenges while improving the world—can you think of a better use for your JD? Sadly, for many lawyers, we get lost in the drudgery of daily paperwork. We feel like there’s no time or profit in tackling the big issues.

Public policy gives way to billing hours. That is why the IBA members are so refreshing to me. From solo lawyers in Bangalore to partners in England’s Magic Circle, the members of the IBA are professionals who go beyond their daily work.  They focus on completing something more than just their weekly timesheets.

If you’re looking to get inspired, check out the IBA’s many worldwide conferences.

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