Developing "cultural intelligence" will be the focus of a regional legal conference in Melbourne today (20 October).
With the theme 'Working with Asia', this year's Engaging the Asian Economies Law & Practice Conference will feature numerous high-profile speakers, including Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark and the Justice of the Supreme Court of Singapore, The Hon. Justice Steven Chong.
The conference is a joint initiative of the Victorian Bar and the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria. Speaking to Lawyers Weekly, William Lye, the chair of the Asia Practice section of the Commercial Bar Association, said the conference was about much more than black letter law.
"This particular conference has a very different flavour," he said. "As part of the theme, we want to build on not just pure legal matters, but also practice matters. Soft skills are often not considered in a lot of conferences. They talk about substantive skills, but no-one really talks about how you build relationships. Where do you start? How do you actually work with Asia?"
The conference will bring together lawyers from all three facets of the legal profession - barristers, solicitors and government/in-house lawyers - and has the strong support of the Victorian Government.
"We have the Government, through the Attorney-General's department, supporting this conference, as well as Monash University and the Supreme Court of Victoria," said Lye. "It is a very powerful statement of support from all branches of the profession, government and the judiciary."
Lye said the conference presents a good opportunity to develop relationships and open up a sector of the legal profession which has not always been open to engagement.
"The kinds of things we want to achieve are to actually start the process of engagement, discussion, and building relationships - and to have the cultural intelligence to understand how it is that we can do this effectively in Asia," he said.
"A lot of law firms who do that successfully, the bigger law firms, have found some secret recipe. As barristers, we are perhaps more insular in terms of our approach, but we are now reaching out."
A particular area in which Lye is keen to develop links is in the domain of international arbitration.
"One of the key things arising from this conference would be the whole area of engagement in terms of international arbitration. We face a very difficult road, because we have Singapore as the hub for international arbitration," he said. "The beauty is, however, that we have an Australian, Dr Michael Pryles, who is the chairman of the Singapore International Arbitration Centre. That speaks real volumes in terms of what Singapore is doing in liberalising its market."
Other speakers at the conference include the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, The Hon. Marilyn Warren AC, the president of CommBar, John Digby QC, and the chairperson of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Chin Tan, who will speak on the topic, 'Being able to speak an Asian language is not the same as understanding Asia'.