Scenes and Reflections from the AIJA Annual Congress 2022
With the generous sponsorship of the Law Society of Singapore, I had the opportunity to attend the 2022 Annual Congress (the Annual Congress) of the International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA), which was held in Singapore for the very first time. I am very grateful for the wonderful experience I had. In this article, I will share more about AIJA, my experience attending the Annual Congress and a couple of suggestions for how young lawyers can make the most of conferences they attend.
The AIJA Annual Congress was especially memorable as it was the first in-person conference I attended since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was refreshing to once again enjoy the spontaneity of physical interactions and to forge new friendships while sipping beverages in stemmed glasses. At last, we could place the not-too-distant days of meet-and-greet sessions over Zoom breakout rooms behind us.
I was thrilled to welcome Congress delegates helming from all parts of the world, ranging from Latin America, the United States, Europe to various parts of Southeast Asia. Many delegates were visiting Singapore for the first time and the sprightliness in the ambience was palpable.
About AIJA and the Annual Congress
Introduction on AIJA
Formed in 1962, the AIJA community is made up of an impressive 4,000 members from 90 different countries. AIJA was formed with the aim of giving young professionals the opportunity to build lasting bonds, enhance cross-cultural understanding and network in a casual and informal setting. Within AIJA, there are several commissions on subject matters such as Antitrust, Commercial Fraud, Immigration Law and International Arbitration. Members of each commission would confer and organise events relating to their areas of practice throughout the year.
AIJA Annual Congress
The vibrant programme for the 2022 Annual Congress, “The Future of the Legal Profession”, comprised a medley of social evenings at bars across the city, an opening ceremony and dinner at the Esplanade, roundtable meetings for AIJA commissions, three days of academic programme, a soccer match and even a day out at the beach. We ended the first day at the Lantern Bar at the Fullerton Bay Hotel having drinks and canapes amidst a sprawling view of the promontory and Singapore skyline. The second day marked the start of the academic programme that was held in the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre.
On the third night of the conference, all AIJA delegates were invited to various hospitality dinners hosted by lawyers based in Singapore. Each Singapore-based lawyer would play host to about six to 16 delegates at either their homes or a local restaurant. The spirit behind the hospitality dinner was to give the host an opportunity to share more about Singapore and for delegates to make more friends and contacts around the world. As part of the AIJA tradition, each guest would present a small gift from their home countries to the host at the end of the dinner.
On the last day of the conference, delegates bid their farewells, raised many joyous toasts to each other and ended the evening at a Gala dinner and afterparty held at the magnificent Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay.
What is Unique About the AIJA Annual Congress?
The truly international pool of delegates at AIJA is one of the most unique features of the Annual Congress. I relished the opportunity to meet lawyers from jurisdictions I had not encountered before, such as Brazil, Uruguay, Poland, Canada, Netherlands, just to name a few.
I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that delegates represented a wide array of law firms with varying sizes, niche practice areas and structures. Many delegates, were, like myself, practising in boutique law firms with specialised fields of practice as well.
Another feature which distinguishes the Annual Congress from other conferences is that it provides ample opportunities for young lawyers to interact and get to know each other. Its social programme, which occupies two out of the five days of the Annual Congress, is not only an accompaniment to (as is often the case in other academic conferences) but equally a highlight as the academic programme.
Highlights from the Academic Programme
In line with the theme of the 2022 Annual Congress, the academic programme featured topics that were future-centric and reflective of new developments in the profession. Conference topics ranged from combating money laundering and fraud, the future of M&A deal processes with the advent of technology, digitalisation in the healthcare, real estate and insolvency fields and the use of virtual platforms for dispute resolution processes.
Delegates had full autonomy to plan their schedules and curate a programme according to their interests. While many delegates participated enthusiastically in the sessions, others preferred to divide their time between attending the formal sessions and getting to know other delegates in a more informal setting.
I chose to attend sessions on topics both within and outside of my practice areas so as to expose myself to a broad range of speakers and subjects. As my background is in dispute resolution, I attended a session on “Old tricks, new tricks: corruption in Arbitration”, where attendees had a lively discussion on how, and to what extent, an arbitral tribunal is obliged to ensure procedural and substantive fairness where allegations of corruption have been levied at parties or the tribunal itself during arbitration proceedings. I also attended other sessions on subjects beyond my field of work, such as the session on “Green shipping and sustainable businesses”, which explored how recent Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) standards have impacted maritime legal work and the shift towards the use of greener mechanisms in the maritime industry.
Apart from sessions which explored substantive legal developments, there were also a number of other sessions which were aimed at providing practical tips to young lawyers on developing a successful and sustainable practice. In a panel session “Lawfirms 2.0, how lawyers can stay ahead of the game”, we heard from panellists from local and foreign firms, including an Australian legal technology company, who shared insights into the use of social media platforms in business development, the importance of giving personalised attention to clients, and the distinction between marketing and business development.
To conclude the academic programme, I attended a final conference session titled “Being an ally – building a successful international business” organised by the AIJA Women Network. Personally, I found this to be one of the most enjoyable sessions as we had the opportunity to hear from panellists who played a pivotal role in advocating for greater awareness and protection of LGBTQ and women’s rights in Singapore. It was a timely reminder of the importance of openness and diversity to the enduring success of any organisation, including law firms.
One of the panellists, Dr Anamah Tan, a veteran family lawyer and women’s rights activist, shared about her experience of campaigning against gender discrimination and advancing the rights of women in Singapore in the past 45 years. Dr Tan is also one of the founding members of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), which represents the interests of over 600,000 women and in upholding gender equality in our society.
Suggestions for How Young Lawyers Can Make the Most Out of International Conferences
Based on my experience attending the Annual Congress, I share three suggestions for how young lawyers can make the most of their attendance at international conferences, especially if they are attending for the first time.
1. Reschedule existing work commitments before attending any conference
Making early arrangements regarding existing work commitments during the conference duration is essential for you to make the most of your experience while attending any conference. It may be tempting to try to “multitask” while attending a conference, especially during busy periods, and it may indeed be unavoidable that you would have to continue overseeing some of your work responsibilities throughout the conference. But don’t underestimate how physically exhausting conferences can be (as enjoyable as they can be as well!). Fully immersing yourself in the programme and being mentally present will enable you to make the most of the event.
2. Keep an open mind and a genuine interest in your fellow delegates
Participating in a conference can be daunting as it can feel overwhelming to meet many new people for the first time in a short span of time. Remember that you probably aren’t the only one feeling this way at the event! With an open mind and genuine interest in your fellow delegates, who they are and what they do, you will soon find yourself engaged in many interesting conversations that will be difficult to walk away from.
In fact, conversing with other delegates and getting to know them was one of my favourite parts of Annual Congress. Many delegates were passionate young lawyers with their own perspectives to share. The many conversations I had enlightened me on many interesting topics such as pensions law in Poland, the growing arbitration scene in Austria and data protection in Italy. I was fortunate to learn a couple of travel tips to lesser-known parts of the world as well. Hopefully, I will get to visit some of my fellow delegates in their home countries one day.
3. Build lasting relationships and not just business contacts
I highly encourage young lawyers to attend conferences not only to network but also to build lasting and genuine relationships. This way, conferences can be an enriching experience as they provide a platform for us to learn from other young lawyers and to gain perspectives on how we can develop our professional identity holistically. With the right mentality, attending a conference can be both an invaluable and fulfilling experience for you.