After a very busy week in Boston, both learning and networking, I’m still left with the confounding question – is it all worth it?
Is it really worth assembling 6,000 lawyers in one place, organizing dozens of conference sessions which require a considerable amount of time to develop, from selecting moderators, topics and panelists, to attracting participants, planning a slew of receptions and all of the money and advertising that goes along with planning an event of that size, be it large or small, arranging breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, and dinner meetings every day for 5-6 days, plus the time and cost of travelling in and of itself. What do we gain from all of this?
I think it is a question worth asking, because as lawyers we spend a considerable amount of time and money in order to participate and you can multiply those efforts tenfold for your firm’s presence and participation. As one lawyer stated:
“IBA’s success is such that every year firms say lets spend less money and send less people, but then seem to forget about their good resolution and end up sending more people and spending more money on social events!”
It is easy to get caught up in the hype and the excitement of the weeklong conference, but then you have to ask yourself – what did I really do all week?
For me personally, attending the IBA Annual Conference was absolutely worth it and I think it was extremely productive. But I wonder if everyone who attended can actually say that. If your answer is no, then I would like to propose a set of guidelines for next year’s event: 5 Rules for a Successful IBA Experience:
- Preparation – You have to know long before you arrive at the conference what your goals are for attending. What do you, and your firm, want to get out of it? Are you attending so that you can sit in on the sessions and learn about current legal trends? Are you attending so that you can really network – either for a new job or to create new partnerships? Or are you attending because you simply want to have fun, spend time with your spouse, go to the parties, and get out of the office for a week? All of those reasons are good reasons – but as long as you know what it is you really wish to gain by attending, you will have a much more successful experience.
- Content-Strategy – Developing a content-strategy in advance will also be quite useful as a means of expanding on your preparation goal. For instance, if you prepare ahead of time to use the IBA conference as an opportunity to network, then your content-strategy should revolve around scheduling meetings with the people you wish to meet and attending firm related events where you can optimize your chance to network. You can also organize your ‘best practices’ agenda in a way to maximize your learning potential with the attorneys and firms that specialize in those fields.
- Make Contact – This is an easy one, but the one we most likely fail to plan accordingly and efficiently in order to achieve. If you know which individuals and firms you specifically wish to meet with – arrange your meetings well in advance and allow yourself sufficient time to spend with them. If you book too many meetings back-to-back you’re going to burn out quickly and most likely feel pressured to rush through your meetings, which in turn will make them far less productive. There is nothing like a one-on-one meeting, so contact them ahead of time, plan in advance, and be prepared to discuss the most important issues in order to gain the most from your encounter.
- Focus on Your Practice Group – There is such a wide variety of sessions covering numerous legal topics that choosing which ones to attend can at times be overwhelming. Therefore, you should really narrow your focus to your practice group and perhaps one or two other areas of interest. For instance, I attended sessions covering employment law and law firm management, because those were the most relevant to me.
- Organize – It is difficult to overstate how important it is to organize your affairs ahead of time and to consistently organize your affairs throughout the week of the conference. It’s easy to aim for the stars and fall miles short. Therefore, I recommend that you plan and organize something that appropriately fits your firm. A small firm trying to organize a huge event will probably, in the end, be overshadowed by the personnel power and money of a much larger firm. It is better to hone your message and the audience you wish to attract then it is to throw a wide net and hope to catch interested parties.
I have said all along that the IBA Annual Conference is an amazing opportunity to learn about the law that you practice, to explore areas of the law that interest you, to meet new people and forge new partnerships, and to strengthen your current alliance. Nevertheless, it is very easy to get caught off guard and waste this opportunity if you are unprepared. Don’t get me wrong, by no means have I perfected my own recommendations. Having lived through it though, on several occasions now, I simply wish to share my impressions in a way that I hope will make your experience better. Let’s meet again… in Tokio 2014.
Author: Stephan Swinkels