I pity lawyers licensed in Virginia, or at other states that require CLE credit. When they go to a conference, they have to actually go to the conference.

For the rest of us, a conference – especially the ABA’s white-collar criminal defense conference – drops much of the pretense of being an educational experience. It’s an odd thing. One would think that the point of going to a conference would be to learn about the law. Yet, sometimes that’s not the move.

I spent some wonderful years in my 20s living in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, social obligation would require that I attend certain parties before and then after a parade, but they often started really early in the morning and ended very late at night. The entire week before Fat Tuesday became something of a Bataan Death March of merriment, which, when you’re in the middle of it, is not quite so merry after all.

(Relatedly, there’s now a service in New Orleans that will give you an IV of fluids if you happen to have been making merry too much. Gotta love entrepreneurship.)

Aside from the poor schlubs who have to go to the conference to satisfy a state bar that they’re continuing to learn about their profession, laissez les bon temps rouler.

This dynamic creates an odd set of social incentives. Yes, it’s very nice to be a presenter. I fear that it’s far better, though, to throw the party everyone goes to.

Yesterday the conference opened. There was a panel on how to respond to search warrants. Sara Kropf was a standout as particularly engaging — and some of the presentation was informative.

For example, we learned that if you represent a client who has an office in a foreign country, and a search warrant is executed at that office, you should hire a lawyer in that country who knows something about the law of that country. Particularly as it relates to search warrants.

That nugget alone was worth the $1200 fee the ABA charges to attend.

Seriously though, much of the panel was great, especially if you haven’t had much time working with agents who are executing a search warrant. And it must be a tremendous undertaking to put together the 25 panels that make up this conference. Many of them look really good – clearly Ray Banoun and the other folks who put together this conference have done a good and thoughtful job.

The main event, though, was the parties.

At the start of the evening (by which I mean 4 p.m., while the last panels of the day at the actual conference are still going on), the parties are open to everyone and are at the same hotel as the conference.

The parties become more selective as the night goes on, like nesting Russian dolls of exclusivity, until, finally, (I imagine) Roger Zuckerman and Mike Madigan raise a glass of cognac together as the first light of a new dawn rising over the Atlantic Ocean kisses a bust of Edward Bennett Williams in the penthouse suite of The Eden Roc.

Goodwin Proctor — bless them — held a very nice event at a restaurant at the Fontainebleau. By 8 p.m. great masses of the white-collar bar, already too far into too much wine and sweaty in suits made for colder climates, squeezed into booths to try to force down pasta and seafood to rally through several more hours of the “conference,” and to yell at each other about cases and work and, of course, which party folks are going to next.

My favorite question of the night is “What’s keeping you busy lately?” It’s such a chummy way to talk about work. It presumes, of course, that folks are busy. And with such a group, how could we not be? It directs a person to talk more about what they actually do, rather than what they aspire to be doing. It’s a wonderfully genteel way to say “please, talk about work with me.”

The uniform — at least for men — appears to be suit without a tie. A few bold souls — the true luminaries of the profession — are confident enough to break that rule. Barry Pollack, for example, wore what appeared to be a sweatshirt and jeans. Blair Brown wore jeans, sneakers, and a sweater. But, of course, Barry Pollack and Blair Brown are rock stars. You can tell, just by looking at their jeans.

Today the conference features more panels — including one on why there have there been no boardroom prosecutions from the financial meltdown (I talked to one of the panelists last night — the conclusion will likely be that it’s too early to tell only five years out. Though you don’t get CLE credit for reading that here).

And then, another night on the town before the conference ends.

Though, happily, next year, this conference will be in New Orleans.


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