Every cloud…

By | 15th November 2012

You knew it was serious when the beach in front of the hotel was closed and tractors started up and down removing various temporary structures. It did not need the pool attendant to remark that there was a tropical storm coming to realise that this was going to be more than a bit of wind and rain.

I cannot mention Hurricane Sandy without sparing a thought for all those who lost their lives or suffered material loss or even some temporary inconvenience. None of what follows is any way intended to make light of the sometimes horrific effect of the category one storm as it blew across the Caribbean, up the east coast of Florida ever northwards before turning inland with devastating force over New Jersey and New York. When you factor in the devastation and disruption caused by Sandy, we were extremely lucky to lose only part of the garden of the hotel to the storm (soon to be restored I understand) and to be able to watch the 20 foot waves crashing onto the beach and the waves in excess of 30 feet high running up the distant Gulf Stream from the comfort and safety of the hotel conference room and/or bar.

But this is not a piece about storms, which is why I feel able to talk about silver linings; and there were plenty of those at the recent Fall conference of the Litigation Counsel of America, the trial lawyer honorary society with which Millnet is delighted to be associated.

Once again, I travelled to the US with my colleague Naj Bueno who arrived in Palm Beach fresh from a round of meetings and conferences in Chicago. Despite the approaching storm, the organisers (Steve and Dottie Henry, Beth Rich, Jessica Sullivan, Teresa Talbot, Julia and Steve Land) had everything ready for the approximately 150 delegates. A snap decision to move our opening reception inside from the South Lawn was doubtless wise and for the rest of the two days we were wonderfully sheltered from the wind and the rain by the excellent Breakers Resort Hotel and its staff. Not quite the few days’ R & R in the sun contemplated by Mrs Holloway but she soon found solace in spa, swimming pool, exercise classes, not to mention the Worth Avenue shops and the relaxed and friendly company of the lawyers and their other halves attending the conference.

The conference agenda proved to be as entertaining and as original as on previous occasions. I have now attended three of these conferences and I have always been impressed by the variety of the subject matter discussed and the quality of the presentations.

Readers will be able to judge for themselves when I tell you that we moved seamlessly from considerations of jury selection and the diverse make up of jurors via the use of jury consultants to how best to work with experts. The ethical requirement of the US CLE system (the equivalent of the English CPD programme) was covered by a tour de force from leading marketing expert Ross Fishman from whom, by popular acclaim, we will be hearing more in May 2013 on the West Coast.

I recognise that it is somewhat invidious to pick favourites but I mean no disrespect to any of the other presenters when I say that the outstanding presentations for me were those by Anita Modak-Truran from Butler Snow’s office in Ridgeland, Mississippi and by Sidney Kanazawa of McGuireWoods’ office in Los Angeles.

Anita wove together law, practice and ethics with an enthralling display of what she had learned from the movies with pretty well everyone in the hall agreeing that lawyer Atticus Finch, played by Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird was the epitome of the successful practitioner deftly handling the ethical and legal dilemmas which confronted him. (runner up, perhaps, Tom Cruise in A few good men?). The lecture was sprinkled with film clips to illustrate the points Anita wanted to make and the whole effect was hugely entertaining and informative and thought provoking.

From the moment Sid stumbled up the steps of the podium, searched in vain for his glasses and then dropped his papers all over the floor, (all an act designed to make us believe we were about to see something very different from what we actually saw) we knew we were in for something special. I had not met Sid before, although I know a number of his partners and colleagues, but if he ever gets tired of being a lawyer, the Hollywood film studios are only a stone’s throw from his LA office. He is a consummate performer and his lecture on “The Illusions of Truth, Memory, Confidence and Causation: How Stories frame what we believe and see” was quite riveting. It brought back vivid memories for me about the difficulties often faced by lawyers seeking to take statements from witnesses to events in the distant past and how their experiences since can quite genuinely make them believe something radically different from what they actually experienced.

I would also like to mention the various institutes (specialist practice groups) now up and running under LCA auspices. There are a number of these but the one I attended was the Complex Commercial Litigation Institute which, judging by the enthusiasm and hard work of its existing members will be one of the real success stories of the LCA in the near future. It is encouraging to see the willingness to share experiences and to assist others with cases across the country and much praise for getting these up and running must go to Teresa Talbot.

These conferences are as much about meeting up with old friends and making new ones as learning about the law. The friendliness and the camaraderie of the members of the LCA are genuine and uplifting to see and to experience. The welcome extended to those of us “from out of town” is wonderful. Add to that, the superb venue and the flawless organisation (I bet we have no idea how hard that mythical swan is paddling under the water when you see her glide serenely past!) and it is easy to see that every cloud can have a silver lining.

In addition to all that, Naj and I attended a number of excellent meetings in Miami, New Orleans and Atlanta. You could say, if I am not straining the metaphor too far, that it is an ill wind that blows nobody good……!