Junior lawyers

AIJA annual congress 2018

In August last year, two members of the Junior Lawyers Division executive committee, Adam Hattersley and James Kitching, attended the International Young Lawyers’ Congress’s (AIJA) annual conference in Brussels.

The objective was to build and maintain strong links with the international legal community, including bar associations, as well as represent the JLD’s interests.

AIJA is a global association that devotes itself to international lawyers aged 45 and under and has run since 1962.

At present, AIJA claims to have around 4000 members from across 90 different countries and jurisdictions. They seek to provide events and international opportunities for young lawyers to network, learn and develop.

The JLD has not previously engaged with AIJA and, as such, Adam and James were sent with the task of attending to see what benefit the organisation would have for the JLD and its members.

First impressions

The annual conference officially kicked off on Tuesday 28 August, with Adam and James attending the lavish Radisson Blu hotel in central Brussels.

After a seamless registration, the conference had officially begun. Both were provided with a tote bag containing a number of Brussels/AIJA-based goodies including a small replica statue of the infamous Manneken Pis.

Following registration, Adam and James attended the Law Society’s office in Brussels meeting with the EU policy adviser, Rita Giannini.

Despite the ‘B’ word continuing to loom, the office is confident of the need for a Law Society presence in the EU and suggest that, if anything, its importance will only increase.

As well as meeting Rita, James and Adam were introduced to the two junior lawyers currently on secondment with the office.

In the afternoon, following all the registrations, delegates were invited to attend a speed networking event.

The idea of the session was to allow new delegates to make connections at the start of the congress as well as giving regular attendees the opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances and meet new AIJA members.

The session consisted of two minutes each to chat with another delegate before having to swap and speak to another delegate.

The room was filled with laughter and buzzing chatter of the noise of networking.   

After all that networking, the delegates had worked up a thirst.

Just in time - it was on to the conference’s ‘Welcome Reception’ at the Royal Gallery affording delegates the opportunity to kick off the congress and get to know each other in a more social setting with a glass of fizz and canapes before bed.

Getting to know you

The conference the next day kicked off nice and early at 7am with a morning run around the city.

The rest of the Wednesday morning consisted of different practice area commission meetings. These ranged from fraud to insolvency, real estate to arbitration.

The sessions enable lawyers from the numerous jurisdictions to meet and discuss transnational aspects of the practice areas including the similarities and differences between jurisdictions.

Shortly after, there was a ‘first timers’ lunch at 1pm, allowing new delegates to find out what AIJA is about and how to make the most out of congress to progress your career.

The lunch allowed delegates to speak with other first timers and begin to understand how the congress can be used to build international relationships.

In the afternoon, delegates met at the futuristic and artistically designed ‘The Egg’ venue for the conference’s opening ceremony.

The keynote speaker of the ceremony was the former president of the European Council and prime minister of Belgium, Herman Van Rompuy, who spoke eloquently and passionately about globalisation, free trade, and climate change.   

Following the ceremony, delegates were invited to try food from all over the world before letting their hair down.

A personal touch

There were several sessions throughout Thursday, including:

  • Is the dream of globalisation over? Growing obstacles to M&A transactions
  • Misinformation Age: How IT is used to spread and fight fake news and hate speech
  • Globalisation and free trade: Can they still exist?

One of the conference highlights was on the Thursday night. Delegates had been split up into small groups of around five or six and invited to attend a local lawyer’s home.

It provided a unique occasion for delegates to find out about the hospitality and the Brussels lifestyle, along with trying local delicacies.

Adam and James both said that this was their favourite event of the conference, allowing an opportunity to speak and dine with delegates from all over the world and find out more about the legal professions in highly varied jurisdictions.

Following the home hospitality dinner, delegates reconvened at a local nightclub.

Big day out

Friday started with high energy and excitement as delegates spent a fantastic day out in Brussels.

In part of the old forest of Sonian, members took part in various entertaining sessions based around Belgian comics.

Everyone was split up into teams and pitted against each other in various tasks, which ranged from rolling balls down gutters to guessing the flavours of beers and chocolates.

It was another great chance to network with lawyers from all over the world and chat to those that had been missed earlier in the week.

Getting involved

With the conference nearly at an end, AIJA held its annual general meeting (AGM).

During the AGM, AIJA announced the succession of the vice president to president, along with various notes for the latest incoming vice president.

Details of the AIJA accounts were published and plans for the upcoming year were set out.  

Next delegates headed off to refresh and put on their finest attire ahead of the Halles de Schaerbeek to close the conference at the gala dinner and afterparty.

A fitting ending to a spectacular week of sessions and networking!

Final thoughts

The JLD has previously had a strong connection with the European Young Bar Association (EYBA) but wanted to take the time to look at other organisations that could be of benefit to its members.

It’s important to the JLD that, in an uncertain time, we can offer connections to stable networks that can help junior lawyers progress, and this includes links with international bar associations.

The overwhelming view from Adam and James is that AIJA is an incredibly well run and organised body.

Its annual conference provided plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to junior lawyers from around the world, hear high level speakers’ thoughts on shared key issues affecting the profession, and it was done in a relaxed environment where delegates were able to enjoy themselves at the same time.

We will continue to provide more information on the JLD’s membership of AIJA but do check it out yourself .


Adam Hattersley and James Kitching are members of the Junior Lawyers Division executive committee.

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