Patricia Gannon, founding partner at Karanović & Nikolić, was recently appointed Chair of the European Forum at the International Bar Association. In this interview, she discusses her role at the helm of the largest global gathering of legal professionals and tackles the important topic of diversity in law, as well as female leadership from her unique perspective as female co-founder of a leading law firm from Southeast Europe.
You have recently been appointed to the role of Chair of the European Forum at the IBA. What does this important position entail?
Patricia: As a firm, Karanović & Nikolić has been heavily involved with the IBA since our foundation. In particular, I have personally been active in a number of committees over the years as they represent a great way to stay on top of professional change. Most recently, the European Regional Forum, which is the forum responsible for managing and organizing all of the IBA conferences and events throughout Europe. The Forum is made up of 9,000 individual lawyer members and is the largest Forum within the IBA.
I have served as an officer for the last 5 years – culminating in a number of years of practical experience involving conference and event organizing. Today, there are 10 officers reporting in from different law firms all over Europe, we also have an advisory board of 25 senior lawyers, and approximately 50 council members representing every country in Europe. The council members are responsible for liaising between the European Forum and their own countries.
What do you feel that you bring to that role and what are your aims and hopes for the year?
Patricia: I bring a certain dynamic to the role which hasn't always been seen and I am keen to innovate a little more in order to move the IBA towards becoming a more modern organization, really reflecting the changes in the legal profession. This year, in addition to running the normal day-to-day conferences, we are looking for special funding from the IBA for a number of exiting projects.
One of them includes a review of the UK Modern Slavery Act on production and supply chain in the fashion industry. We hope to come to an understanding on the impact of extraterritorial legislation on corporates operating in this field. This is an exciting project which is relevant to consumers everywhere, as they are increasingly concerned about the human and environmental impact of clothes production.
I am working on a very exciting meeting in Rome – it is the Annual Meeting of the IBA scheduled for October, and it will include a number of very exciting sessions dealing with the hottest legal topics in the world. The ERF sessions include "Remaking Rome – the Treaty of Rome and what Europe Needs Now".
We will be working with other committees in a session on European luxury brands titled "Do you know where your clothes come from?". There will also be a session organized by all fora titled "The Future of Food – a Global Issue for Humanity", where we look at legal and policy issues relating to food production, resources, packaging, regulation, genetically modified content etc.
You are interested in the IBA diversity group. Will this relate to your role as the Chair of the European Forum?
Patricia: Global membership in the IBA today is about 70 percent male and 30 percent female – which is not entirely in recognition of the make-up of the profession generally. In certain countries it is almost 50-50, and this is including the judiciary, prosecutors, house-counsel, solicitors and barristers. Different parts of the profession are more female than others. Overall, considering the 70-30 percent membership, I feel that the 30 percent has not historically been represented appropriately throughout the organization and, in fact, a special task force is being established within the IBA to deal with diversity in general, including gender.
In my role as Chair of the European Forum, I made it my priority at one of my first meetings to ensure that 50 percent of all the representatives in my Council are female. I am very pleased to say that today 47 percent of the Council members are female. As a result of that, I expect to see a new dynamic with greater productivity and focus. Out of that pool of talented women, I hope to see more and more of them promoted across the ranks of the IBA. It's a process of change which the legal profession, as any other needs to address.
It must be interesting, not only being a woman, but also representing a law firm from this part of Europe?
Patricia: Yes, indeed! The IBA has relatively low membership numbers from Southeast Europe, and I hope that raising the organization's profile in SEE will raise membership and that we will get more active and learn from our colleagues both from Western Europe and across the globe. With that in mind, I will be opening the Balkan Legal Forum – our traditional bi-annual conference dealing with this region – which is to be held in Vienna on the 14th of June. I am very pleased to be involved in this highly relevant conference for all practitioners working in Southeast Europe. With approximately 150 attendees, it is the perfect opportunity to meet old friends who understand the complexity of doing business in the Balkans, making new connections and developing new ideas for investment opportunities.
As for Karanović & Nikolić and its role, we have been a corporate member of the International Bar Association for many years – which means that all the lawyers working with us are individual members of the IBA and can participate in its activities and learn from their peers through committee work. As a firm, we are keen to support all the organizations where lawyers can learn, develop and be in touch with current best practices, albeit from other markets. I think that we in Southeast Europe have some catching up to do in terms of the levels of professionalism that we need to provide to our international clients. The IBA is a great instrument for our further professional evolution.