History Project: The 1990s

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1999 CLA Increases its Focus on Internationalization

CLA had undertaken a number of International ventures before 1999., It held its first Japanese program as early as 1975, its first European conference in Amsterdam in 1988, its first Australian program in 1993. In 1999, however, under the leadership of David Bender, the CLA made a major effort to become even more International.

Recollections of David Bender
(President, 1 July 1999-December 2000)

In the year preceding that in which I became president of CLA, I gave some thought to the matter of what I wanted to accomplish, should I become president. I decided that my most important goal would be to move CLA onto the path of becoming a truly international organization. At the time, about 10% of the members were Canadian, and a much smaller percentage were from other non-US nations. With the exception of two Canadians, only US nationals had held the office of president. The Board was typically comprised of US nationals, a small number of Canadians, and perhaps a British national. Thus, CLA had only a modest claim to being international, and was largely a US organization.

The genesis of my decision lay in my work environment. Since coming to White & Case in 1985, I had seen it morph itself into one of the most internationally based law firms in the world. It was guided by its vision that the need for commercial legal services would grow faster outside the US than in the US. From 1985 to 1998 (when I was doing my thinking about CLA) the number of countries outside the US in which the firm had offices grew from seven to 24. An increasing amount of my own work emanated from countries outside the US, and by the mid-1990s I found myself communicating daily with lawyers in the firm ’ s offices outside the US. And from time to time I had to travel to the firm’s offices in Japan, Germany, France, Hong Kong, the UK, Brazil, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. I concluded that, with the world becoming a smaller place, an organization like CLA could offer real value to its members by providing them with information about significant events transpiring outside the US, and well as with an opportunity to identify and meet leading IT professionals in other countries. The big question in my mind was how to go about achieving this goal of becoming an international organization.

It was with this mind-set that one day in 1998 I received from Steve Davidson a call informing me of an approach that had been made to him by a Spanish lawyer, one Enrique Batalla. As I learned over the next few months from phone and personal conversations with Steve and Enrique, Enrique was proposing a series of five or six (I can ’ t recall which) annual conferences, each in a different southern European venue. Enrique would undertake to be the prime mover in planning each of them, although there would be a local planning committee for each conference. Each would be held at a top hotel, and would include many speakers with established reputations; some would be from Europe, while others would be from the US. The initial conference would be in Enrique ’ s home city of Madrid. He thought the second conference should probably be in either Milan or Lisbon, and already had ideas about who to approach in each of those cities to head the planning committee. One key ingredient of Enrique ’ s proposal was the type of agreement he contemplated between CLA and the conference organizing company that CLA would need for each conference. He suggested an agreement that relieved CLA of any liability for a loss, and he was confident that he could find a good organizing company that would be willing to enter into such an agreement.

As Steve and I worked through the details with Enrique, I concluded that this proposal had a great deal of merit, and that implementing it could jump-start CLA’s transformation into an international organization. It had the potential to increase European membership greatly, to foster the networking among practitioners on each side of the Atlantic, and to expand the types of useful (if not necessary) information that would become available to members. The one major item in Enrique’s proposal with which I was uncomfortable was his request for a five- or six-year commitment from CLA. I wanted to do it on a year-by-year basis. If one program looked as though it was reasonably successful, CLA could go forward with the next. But if we concluded that a program was a failure, and saw no likely fix next time around, CLA should be able to abort the process. Enrique agreed to our suggestion of a year-by-year approach. The proposal cleared the Executive Committee, and I believe it was presented to and approved by the Board as well, with Enrique making the presentation. At that point, planning began in earnest for the Madrid conference, scheduled for June 1999.

The Madrid conference was everything that Enrique had predicted. The hotel he chose was excellent (I can still remember swimming laps in one of its pools), the conference facilities were good, and he filled the program with well-known European and US lawyers speaking on topics of interest. And the conference hall was full of obviously interested attendees. The conference ran at a financial loss, but it was not CLA’s loss. Enrique was able to pinpoint the bases for the financial loss and was confident that, with appropriate attention, they would not be repeated in future conferences. Soon after Madrid, planning began in earnest (Enrique had already done much preliminary planning) for the Milan conference. And CLA was off and running in Europe. Enrique gave each of the subsequent European conferences the same type of attention that he gave to Madrid. It was obvious that he was spending a great amount of time planning each of them, and he made several trips (unreimbursed by CLA) to each of the venues (as well as to some proposed venues that did not pan out) to confer with the local planning committees and the conference organizing companies.

As I look back on it, I believe that CLA’s series of European conferences has been a highlight of the past several years, and one of the most successful ventures the organization has undertaken. In my view, the biggest single reason for this success can be summarized in a single word: Enrique.

Look for expansion of the History Project in 2010 and beyond.

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