Liabilities scare lawyers' group away from surf meet
The American Bar Association's annual meeting will be held here next week
When Honolulu attorney Lea Hong was organizing the National Lawyers on Longboards Surfing Contest, the event, to be held at Queen's Beach followed by a luau, might have seemed a perfect capstone for the American Bar Association's 2006 annual meeting scheduled for Aug. 3-8.
But Hong ran into a big objection from the bar association when she approached it about sponsoring the contest.
"It's really funny -- the ABA won't officially sponsor it for liability reasons," said Hong, an environmental lawyer and avid surfer.
Instead, the nation's largest legal organization will stick to the basics for the meeting: cerebral speeches by celebrated jurists and lawyers, continuing- education courses on cutting-edge topics, and tony dinner and luncheon banquets. Among the luminaries scheduled to speak is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Combined with several meetings held by other legal associations, the ABA meeting, to be held at the Hawaii Convention Center, is expected to bring about 10,700 participants to Honolulu during the first week of August and generate $38 million in direct spending, said Lyn Flanigan, executive director of the Hawaii State Bar Association.
Flanigan said it is understandable that the lawyers' group might look askance at a surfing contest, given that lawyers are trained to be prudent. But Hong said the ABA overreacted.
"They were freaked out about the liability issue related to a surf contest, even though we had liability insurance and everything," Hong said.
Reached late yesterday in Chicago, ABA spokesman Dave Jaffe could not immediately comment.
The lack of official support from the ABA has not put a damper on the contest. The Hawaii State Bar Association and legal publisher LexisNexis have stepped up to sponsor the event. And Reid Inouye, a big-time surfing promoter, is the official organizer.
Hong said the organizers are taking safety seriously. Participants have signed what she calls "a pretty serious liability waiver." Lifeguards will be on duty in case anyone gets in trouble.
Organizers also are trying to anticipate concerns peculiar to a contest among attorneys. The judges, Hong said, need to be unassailable, the rules loophole-free.
"Lawyers are always going to complain about the rules -- I've thought a lot about this," said Hong, who is a partner with the firm of Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing.
So far, about 40 lawyers have signed up to compete, including a barrister from London. Hong hopes to register about 60 altogether, she said.
Richard Hamar, a Beverly Hills-based litigator who helped found the 250-member Association of Surfing Lawyers, has about eight members of his organization coming to participate.
"I think when I mention this, people think we're surfing on the Internet, not in the ocean," said Hamar, an accomplished yogi who often does pro bono work for yoga teachers. "I think lawyers have a reputation for going out and having fun and staying active, but you don't think about lawyers going out there and surfing very often."
Hong said that even the event's name was chosen partly to help dispel lawyer stereotypes.
"In the old days we used to call this the Land Shark Contest," she said. "But that seemed a little too negative."