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ILA Annual Conference 2011

26/03/11

The ILA Annual Conference 2011 was held at the prestigious Saïd Business School in Oxford on Friday 25th March and Saturday 26th March 2011.  We were once again fortunate that Mr. Justice David Richards was able to find time in his busy schedule to chair the conference, fresh from handing down judgments on schemes of arrangement (Re Uniq Plc [2011] EWHC 749 (Ch)) and IP's remuneration (Brook v Read [2011] EWCA Civ 331), each of which were recently noted by John Tribe on his excellent blog http://bankruptcyandinsolvency.blogspot.com

The conference began with a review of the world economy by Ronald Temple, a managing director of Lazard Asset Management LLC in New York.  Against the background of unprecedented turbulence in the world's financial markets and with historic economic models and assumptions bedeviled by more black than white swans, Ronald was tasked with the unenviable task of giving a room full of lawyers an overview of the key economic themes in the United States, Europe and Asia.  Daringly, in light of Neil Bohr's observation that "prediction is very difficult, especially about the future", Ronald was also prepared to give his views on what may happen to the world's economy in the year ahead.  The session was very well received, with delegates grateful to receive some much needed clarity on key economic themes/trends amongst the miasma of the daily flow of economic news in today's uncertain world.  Ronald's ability to cogently explain quantitative easing and its practical ramifications was of particular note and the plethora of facts, figures and graphs which accompanied Ronald's talk gave plenty of food for thought.

Ronald's session was followed by David Allison of 3-4 South Square giving an overview of the two key recent cases on administration expenses, namely Goldacre Offices Ltd v Nortel Networks UK Ltd [2010] BCC 299 and Bloom & Ors v The Pension Regulator & Ors [2010] EWHC 3010 (Ch).  David started his talk by observing that he had been on the losing side in the former case and the winning side (to date) in the later case, wryly commenting that this had not won him many friends amongst insolvency practitioners.  As Mr. Justice David Richards had observed in the introduction to the conference, administration expenses is probably the most vexing issue currently facing the insolvency profession and David gave a lucid, balanced overview of the issues in the two cases and was prepared to offer a very convincing view as to why Goldacre may not have been, in his opinion, the "right" decision. 

David was followed by Richard Snowden QC of Erskine Chambers giving an overview of some of the pertinent issues raised by some of the schemes of arrangements and CVAs which have been used in recent times to implement restructurings.  Richard raised a number of thought provoking issues which no doubt have caused, and will continue to cause, some sleepless nights for practitioners.

One of the great strengths of the ILA is its ability to provide a forum for both practitioners and academics to share ideas and debate the key legal issues facing the insolvency and restructuring profession.  In this respect, the conference was fortunate enough to benefit from a session by Professor Gerry McCormack of the University of Leeds entitled "Hands Across the Atlantic - COMI and Comity in the EU Regulation" which focused on the way in which the COMI concept has been interpreted and used on both sides of the Atlantic.

The highlight of the conference for many was the afternoon's panel session on the differences between insolvency law and practice in the UK and the United States.  With a panel featuring a distinguished representative from each jurisdiction's judiciary (Mr Justice David Richards and Hon. Robert E. Gerber) as well as Gabriel Moss QC and the co-head of Skadden's global restructuring practice, John Wm (Jack) Butler, Jr, and chaired by Allen & Overy's Carolyn Conner, the conference proved once again to be unrivalled in its ability to bring the profession's leading lights together to stimulate debate and share ideas.  It is no exaggeration to say that most of the conference was spell-bound by Judge Gerber's overview of how bankruptcy practice has changed in the United States, his thoughts on general themes interwoven with a series of wonderful anecdotes.  A personal favourite was his recounting of the "bingo wheel" method by which bankruptcy cases are assigned to judges in the United States and how "bingo fate" had led to an ashen faced clerk telling Judge Albert Gonzalez that he had been assigned both the Enron and Worldcom "mega" bankruptcy cases within weeks of each other.

Whilst primarily a forum for an in-depth exploration of difficult legal issues, the ILA conference has always sought to ensure that legal debate is balanced with some real world experience and to ensure that delegates don't remain in their legal ivory towers.  The conference was therefore very fortunate to finish with a session by Simon Freakley of Zolfo Cooper on the implications of the Nortel pensions judgment for lenders and insolvency practitioners.

Following the day's technical sessions, delegates enjoyed a black tie gala dinner in the grand setting of Pembroke College's dining hall.  A truly memorable way to finish another thought-provoking, stimulating and well-attended annual conference.  Special thanks must go to Chris Mallon, Sian Ellis and all the team at Skadden for organising such an enjoyable weekend.

Copies of the technical papers presented at the conference can be accessed in the Conference Papers section.

Details of the Academic Colloquium held in Oxford on Friday, 25th March 2011 can be accessed here.