Global Reach: Networking and educational opportunities from the ABA's international section

Monday, September 7, 2015 - 17:48

Lisa Savitt, the ABA’s international section chair, describes the group’s signature programs and its upcoming events, and she recounts the benefits for corporate counsel who become involved.

MCC: Please tell our readers about the focus of the ABA international section. What are your key initiatives and activities?

Savitt: The American Bar Association Section of International Law is the “gateway" to international practice. We provide networking, educational opportunities and information on the policy aspects of international law, whether it’s for U.S. lawyers, non-U.S. lawyers, or even for those who aren’t lawyers at all but have an interest in international law.

We also act as ambassador for the broader ABA with respect to what we’re doing in the legal community. We work with many foreign bar associations, with whom we have liaisons to keep our members connected. We also work with other sections of the ABA, the American Society of International Law and the international components of state bar associations, such as the New York State Bar Association International Committee.

MCC: Tell us more about your upcoming meetings. Do you have any noteworthy speakers planned?

Savitt: For the two seasonal meetings we’ll host in my year as chair, we’re going to Montreal in the fall and New York in the spring. I have a steering committee to help with the planning, and one of our subgroups is doing outreach to corporate counsel in the local community.

It’s going to be really exciting. We have Brian Mulroney, the former prime minister of Canada, as one of our luncheon speakers, making remarks just two days after the big election in Canada. We’ve also scheduled the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who is supposed to be a very good speaker.

The theme for Montreal is “Globalization and the Importance of Law, Language and Culture.” For the first time, we’re having two plenary sessions. One is on the future of legal practice, which is a very hot issue for corporate counsel because of the revolution happening in the legal practice, part of it driven by technology, part of it driven by budget concerns of corporations and how they spend their legal dollars.

The other session is on developing and implementing global legal compliance systems in a multicultural world, and I think that one will appeal to corporate counsel, too. We’re also having a fun panel hosted by our judiciary committee, who will show clips of famous trials and ask a panel of judges to critique the lawyers in the film.

MCC: From what I understand, your work as ambassador is also reflected in the breadth of your membership.

Savitt: We have many foreign lawyers who are members of the section. You don’t have to be a U.S.-licensed lawyer to be an ABA member. Many of our members are members of other sections, such as the business law section or the litigation section, but we’re the only section where everything we touch is international. If you’re in the litigation section, there may be an international program here and there, but people interested in international litigation or arbitration who belong to our section see that the focus at its very core is international.

MCC: When we talked to your predecessor, Marcelo Bombau, he mentioned that about 12 percent of the section is composed of in-house counsel. Do you have suggestions for ways corporate counsel can get involved that would be meaningful for both inside and outside counsel?

Savitt: There are several ways. Within our section we have an active corporate counsel committee, which they’re welcome to join at no cost, and that’s the case with our 64-plus committees, all of which are free once you join the section. If you do M&A, you can join the international M&A committee. If you want to be involved, you put up your hand  otherwise your membership can be more passive in terms of receiving information.

We’re planning a corporate counsel day at our next spring meeting, scheduled for 2016, with a lower rate for corporate counsel. They can attend just that one day, which we’re going to front-load with sessions of interest to them. We had a great corporate counsel turnout at our last conference in New York in 2014 – almost 200 people attended – and I know one of the things they enjoyed was meeting other corporate counsel with similar positions and facing similar issues.

MCC: What are some of the issues your in-house members are confronting?   

Savitt: Let’s say you’re a major corporation with substantial operations in Brazil and you have an in-house team there. You want to bring those Brazilian lawyers to the United States for a year or two to work in the main office, but there’s a question about whether or not they have to maintain the privilege because maybe there’s not a policy about privilege in their home jurisdiction. There’s also a question about whether they’re allowed to practice law here in the United States. There’s a model rule for registration of in-house counsel that’s making its way through the approval process, but it’s not there yet. I would expect it’s going to be presented in February at the mid-year meeting, which would provide some guidelines for lawyers who are lawfully practicing as in-house counsel in their own jurisdictions to register as in-house counsel in this country.

MCC: I see that you have served in several different leadership capacities within this section. Can you tell our readers what inspired you to get involved?

Savitt: I majored in East Asian studies in college, and my very first job as a practicing lawyer was with the Federal Aviation Administration. That’s where I realized there was this broader field of aviation law, which I wasn’t even aware of in law school. My first law firm job was working for a firm that represented many international clients, mostly in product liability and tort litigation. We represented foreign airlines and a foreign manufacturer of helicopters, and all these issues were coming up about international law – whether there’s jurisdiction in the United States, or whether the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act would apply if they were owned by the government. That’s why I got into international law, through the industry I was in, which was very international.

I first became involved with the section when I went to a luncheon about careers in international law sponsored by the women’s interest network of the section. I met Deborah Enix-Ross, who ended up, years later, becoming chair of the section and who is now very high up in the ABA. She invited me to go to a reception at an annual meeting that the section was hosting, and one of the members said, “join the section and I’ll make you my deputy.”  “Sure,” I said, and then I then asked Deborah who that member was and what I had gotten myself into. It was Josh Markus, who recently joined the House of Delegates and is a member of the Commission on Women in the Profession.

MCC: You have a lot of personal experience with diversity initiatives, correct?

Savitt: Yes. I was on the diversity committee in this section that recommended having a diversity officer, and we just created a diversity fellows program. To develop leadership in this section, we’re funding six young lawyers to spend two years with us, and in return, they have to get involved with the section. For programs we plan and host, we’re determined to implement the conceptat that panels should be diverse. We like to see gender balance, so if there are four speakers, two should be women, or at least one should be a woman and one a diverse person. I believe that if you don’t enforce it, it isn’t going to happen.