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CHICAGO-Thousands of lawyers from around the world will be in Chicago in mid-September to attend a conference that may be less about the International Bar Association (IBA)’s programs and more about the international networking that is increasingly crucial for U.S. firms seeking to expand their business. The IBA will hold its annual conference in the city from Sept. 17 to 22, attracting an expected 4,000 attorneys from about 120 countries to discuss topics ranging from the rights of children born using new fertility methods to the use of specialized intellectual property courts. This year’s conference is likely to be slightly larger than last year’s meeting in Prague, the Czech Republic, said Lawrence Schaner, an attorney with Chicago-based Jenner & Block who serves on one of the IBA’s committees. “Lawyers see the possibility of making connections with lawyers in different jurisdictions so they will know who to call when they need someone in a different jurisdiction and they hope the people they call will reciprocate,” Schaner said. The networking is “very important because in so many fields international work has become a vitally important component,” said David W. Rivkin, an attorney with New York-based Debevoise & Plimpton who is vice chair of IBA’s legal practice division and whose firm is planning a reception. Steve Komie, with Chicago-based Komie and Associates, who is hosting lunch at a Chicago yacht club during the event, said his firm has benefited “substantially” from being active in IBA events, handling more litigation on issues from patents to divorces that cross borders. “One of the great benefits of participation is the ability to know the people that you’re recommending to your clients in far away places,” Komie said. Speakers at the conference will include former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, now chairman of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray & Cary, and Adrian Winstanley, the director general of the London Court of International Arbitration. The conference also spawns other smaller forums, such as the joint IBA-ABA International Rule of Law Symposium that starts the day before the IBA conference. Merger birthplace While the networking is mainly geared toward building business, there may also be talk about firm mergers and attorney recruitment, lawyers involved said. Many of the mergers over the past 20 years grew out of the conversations that occurred at IBA meetings, said Francis Neate, the president of the IBA and of counsel to the London office of Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis. Ironically, the wave of mergers over the past 20 years has held back attendance at the conference to some extent because two separate law firms were likely to send more attorneys than one merged firm, Neate said. Still, lawyers need to learn about and adapt to the different legal traditions and cultural practices of their foreign counterparts, he said. “There is a kind of multicultural education that you pick up,” Neate said. “If you’re going to be a successful international lawyer, you’ve got to be sensitive to these differences in attitude.” The IBA would like to increase U.S. attorney participation generally in all of its events, he said. So far, there are about 3,600 people registered for the conference, including about 675 from the United States. Part of the reason the association, which has about 30,000 members, is returning to the United States just four years after holding the conference in San Francisco is to encourage increased American participation in the London-based organization, Schaner said. The conference won’t return to North America after this year until its 2010 meeting in Vancouver, Canada.

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