The French Connection

HLS Celebrates Second Worldwide Alumni Congress in the City of Light

[Fall 2001]

They came from the corners of the globe: Mongolia, Pakistan, Egypt, Malaysia, Paraguay, India, Singapore. In all, nearly 400 HLS alumni from 42 countries convened in Paris for the School's second Worldwide Alumni Congress held June 24 to 27.

They came to renew old friendships, to discuss globalization of the legal profession, and to explore a city where fine art is rivaled only by fine dining.

"I feel strangely connected to this city," said Dean Robert Clark '72 in his opening remarks, referring playfully to his upbringing in French-influenced New Orleans. "But New Orleans ain't Paris. I know the City of Light will truly dazzle us."

For the next four days, "delegates" to the Congress-- ranging from 1940s graduates to a few current HLS students--crisscrossed the city for meetings, tours, receptions, stately dinners, and academic sessions. When it was over, acquaintances became friends and the world seemed, if only briefly, a bit smaller.

Around the Globe

When Giovanni Lega LL.M. '85 was a student at HLS, he had no idea what he would do after graduation. He knew only that he would be a lawyer in his home country of Italy. "But now we have a new title," said Lega during the opening panel discussion on globalization, "Lawyer of the World."

A partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Milan, Lega spoke from experience about the absence of national boundaries in many of today's legal transactions. To illustrate the thicket of complexities inherent in modern legal practice, he told delegates about a recent "demerger" he oversaw that involved 148 different countries. Lawyers inevitably have trouble dealing with so many disparate sets of laws and regulations, Lega said. "There are implementation issues and financial assistance issues, which are rarely taken into consideration by the central forces that negotiate the deal."

Former Harvard Law School Association president Jacques Salès LL.M. '67, partner at the Paris-based firm Denton Salès Vincent & Thomas, warned that increased globalization may lead to increased consolidation of the legal world, just as in the accounting industry, which is dominated by the so-called Big Six. "Life is going to be difficult for the local firms. Next time we meet for the Worldwide Alumni Congress, there might be ten firms in the world, and the rest will be boutiques," Salès quipped.

It isn't just European firms that grapple with these new challenges, said Walter Looney '77, a partner in the London office of the New York-based firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. "We used to be able to service our clients by walking down Wall Street. Today, even U.S. transactions no longer involve only U.S. law." Looney cited the proposed merger of two American companies--G.E. and Honeywell--which collapsed due to opposition from European antitrust regulators.

The discussion ultimately turned back to HLS and the need for the School to prepare its students for the realities of today's legal marketplace. "Global legal practice requires global legal education," said Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter '85, director of the Law School's Graduate and International Legal Studies program. "It is our job to prepare . . . the lawyers of the world."

Slaughter outlined what a "global legal curriculum" should be. "It's about a comparative perspective," she said. "What our students need to know is that the way they practice law--whether it be in the United States or France or Japan or South Africa--is only one way of doing things. And they need to know that from the very first moment they enter law school."

Beyond the formalized setting of panel discussions, many alumni took advantage of the Paris gathering to convene in smaller groups and explore with each other current trends in legal practice. Many felt these impromptu chats--at breakfast, on buses, in hotel lobbies--were just as valuable as the planned programming.

"Attending [the Congress] is very important for someone like me, being from a small jurisdiction like Ireland, because you meet people you may someday work with," said Eugene Fanning LL.M. '77 from Dublin. "It's very reassuring. You build your own global network."

Others took a break from professional networking and simply caught up with former classmates.

"It's been very good to meet up with old friends," said Michael Ewing-Chow LL.M. '98, a graduate from Singapore who said he doesn't have many opportunities to return to Cambridge.

Whether in formal presentations or during lunchtime chats, a consensus emerged that HLS should continue to place significant emphasis on preparing students for international legal practice. "I'm very excited by that," said Ewing-Chow. "It means we're going to see a bunch of new lawyers coming out into the legal field who are going to be very conversant in international culture and international legal systems."

City of Light

On the second day of the Congress, Pierre Lellouche LL.M. '74 S.J.D. '80, a member of the French National Assembly (the lower house of Parliament), hosted his fellow alumni for a brief insider's tour of the National Assembly buildings and grounds.

"As an institution committed to the rule of law in the world, we feel a certain kinship with lawmaking bodies like the National Assembly," said Dean Clark with Lellouche at his side.

That evening delegates enjoyed a sunset cruise on the river Seine that featured cuisine from the different regions of France. At precisely 10 p.m., the boat passed by the Eiffel Tower, which--seemingly on cue--shone in a display of flickering lights. "Was that just for us?" a few of the delegates wondered aloud.

The next two days were packed with panel discussions on issues ranging from cyberlaw to Islamic legal studies, as well as more opportunities to venture out into the city. Day three included a private tour of the Louvre followed by a black-tie dinner at the Conciergerie, the celebrated prison where Marie Antoinette was held captive during the French Revolution.

On June 27, after a series of professionally guided walking tours through Parisian neighborhoods, the second HLS Worldwide Alumni Congress officially concluded, appropriately, at the Eiffel Tower. Hundreds of feet above the city, in a panoramic observation room, more than 300 of the HLS delegates convened for a farewell reception of champagne and sweets.

While many reflected on the event, there was considerable talk of the next Worldwide Alumni Congress. "Where will it be?" asked Dean Clark. "London? Tokyo? Maybe Rio?"

Each venue received applause, but as Clark pointed out on the first day of the Congress, no matter where HLS alumni meet, "You never really leave Harvard Law School."


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