Thousands of lawyers set to visit Seoul for annual meeting

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Thousands of lawyers set to visit Seoul for annual meeting


Horacio Bernardes Neto, President of the International Bar Association

For a local team organizing the world’s largest annual meeting of international lawyers next month, North Korea’s recent string of ballistic missile launches couldn’t be happening at a worse time — especially when the meeting was almost canceled before due to the same threat.

From Sept. 22 through 27, between 6,000 and 8,000 lawyers from 130 different countries are expected to descend on Coex in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, to attend the International Bar Association’s (IBA) annual conference, where they will exchange knowledge on a wide variety of topics from human rights, the rule of law, the challenges of law firm management and the future of the legal profession.
The Seoul organizing committee of the event expects that for two-thirds of the visiting lawyers, it will be their first time in South Korea, which raises the chance they’ll feel more concerned about Pyongyang’s provocations.

Yet Horacio Bernardes Neto, president of the IBA, believes there’s a silver lining. “Human rights abuses and the erosion of the rule of law are happening in many places. No single jurisdiction has a monopoly,” Bernardes said this week during an email interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily.

“If we can demonstrate through dialogue and example that there is a better way to exist in the world, then it is our duty to do just that.”
In the interview, Bernardes, a Brazilian lawyer whose two-year tenure as IBA president began on Jan. 1, discussed his hopes for the upcoming conference in Seoul and what can be gained from the experience.
The following are excerpts of the interview, which were edited for clarity.

Q. Is it your first time to South Korea? If not, when did you visit and why?

. I have only visited [South] Korea once, last year in November, with some senior officers of the IBA for what we call a “site visit.” During that time, we visited the venue where the IBA annual conference will be held, the impressive COEX Convention and Exhibition Center, as well as other venues relevant to the conference. I remember having a very full schedule and receiving wonderful hospitality wherever I went and recall the almost palpable enthusiasm and energy during the meetings with the organizing and host committees, Supreme Court officials and many managing partners at a number of law firms. The architecture of Seoul is stunning. The juxtaposition of old and new provides a beauty and vibrancy that can overwhelm the senses but also provides calm. And the food! It was just glorious!

As IBA president, what hopes do you have for hosting this year’s annual conference in Seoul? What are your expectations for Seoul being a successful host?

Holding the 2019 IBA annual conference in Seoul will bring the world’s jurists to their South Korean peers and open a world of possibilities for all concerned. Many of our expected delegates will be first-time visitors to South Korea, and as president of this august body, I am filled with pride that because of our values and because of our reputation, people will travel from across the globe to participate in what is an essential meeting in the global legal calendar. During the week of our conference, business relationships will be formed or further cemented and life-long friendships established. I know this to be true from my own experience. I joined the IBA in 1982, and the friendships that I made back then have only blossomed over the years. I have contacts all over the world who I can call upon at any time for advice about laws in a particular jurisdiction or to whom I can refer clients. My hope is that South Korea’s lawyers will embrace this incredible opportunity and form their own bonds.

Are there any lawyers in the IBA raising concerns about North Korea? If so, how is the IBA handling those concerns, and what are your personal thoughts?

People in general, not just lawyers, are worried about a number of things that are happening around our precious world. News reports are filled with much sadness and tragedy. It is difficult to escape 24/7 news updates. However, lawyers who are members of the IBA understand and appreciate the rich foundations of our association and that the only way to alter the perspective of another is to engage. We cannot shy away from violations that are occurring and will address some of the issues during the conference. Human rights abuses and the erosion of the rule of law are happening in many places. No single jurisdiction has a monopoly. But, if we can demonstrate through dialogue and example that there is a better way to exist in the world, then it is our duty to do just that. Our annual conference provides the arena, and we invite all to join us. I see that thousands of legal professionals are heading to Seoul, willing to expand their worldview and experience. It is here where my focus lies.

What makes this year’s annual conference stand apart from the previous annual conferences?

Just like different countries, each IBA annual conference has its own charm. Making comparisons is extremely difficult, but to be certain, the excellent roster of speakers, the more than 200 sessions taking place and the Rule of Law Symposium taking place at the end of the conference focusing on the persecution of lawyers and judges, which is a growing cause for concern, will provide great food for thought and inspiration. The dynamism of Seoul will lend itself to discussing some of the most pressing and dynamic issues facing us today on which I intend to focus during my presidential tenure, including bullying, sexual harassment and other barriers to diversity in the legal profession, the creation of a refugee visa and examining open and closed legal markets. Ultimately, the personality of Seoul, the culture, culinary delights, hospitality and beauty will [make it] stand apart from previous IBA annual conferences.

What positive effects do you think South Korea might reap from hosting the IBA annual conference in Seoul?

By hosting the IBA annual conference, [South] Korea’s legal profession will see a world beyond its borders without leaving its shores, because the world is coming to Korea. In addition, many from outside of Korea will be introduced to possibilities unknown. I think there will be mutual benefit and mutual respect developed. In addition, Korea’s rich and diverse culture of the traditional and the modern, and of course K-pop culture and K-beauty, will be opened up to people unfamiliar with it. Undoubtedly, there will be economic benefit. Some [are] immediately quantifiable with a substantial increase in flights, hotel rooms, restaurants and taxi bookings, while business deals that will take place in the years ahead will not be easily traced to the hosting of the annual conference. However, I think the biggest positive effect goes beyond the fiscal. There will be an enormous sense of pride in now being included in the list of world cities to have successfully hosted an IBA annual conference.

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