On Dec.8 - 9, more than 100 judges, lawyers and academicians came together in the beautiful Raad van State to share information and perspectives on the evolution of class actions and group litigation procedures world-wide. In her opening address, Prof. Deborah Hensler (Stanford Law School/Tilburg University) urged conferees to put aside ideological debates about the adoption of class actions and focus instead on the "facts on the ground": how class actions are being used in different jurisdictions, how courts manage mass litigation in the absence of class or other representative procedures, and what social, cultural and economic factors are shaping the evolution of class and non-class mass litigation today.
The conference, co-organized by Hensler, Prof. Christopher Hodges (Oxford Centre for Socio-Legal Studies/Erasmus University, and Prof. Ianika Tzankova (Tilburg University/NautaDutilh), was organized around 5 themes: the role of the mass media in shaping class and mass litigation; the evolution of third-party financing; judicial case management; approaches to settling mass compensation claims; and challenges presented by trans-national litigation. A final roundtable session invited lawyers, academicians and representatives of the re-insurance industry to prognosticate about the status of class actions five years hence. To help focus discussion, all of the panels except the final session began with a presentation by an academic researcher of a real case, selected to highlight the subject of the panel.
Attendees responded enthusiastically to all of the panels, but 3 received special plaudits: the panel on financing (chaired by Hodges) which highlighted the changes in the legal financing industry that have taken place since the first international conference in 2007 (more players; a greater variety of financing models); the judicial case management panel (chaired by Tzankova) which brought into sharp focus the contrast between the take-charge attitude of common law judges when confronted with mass cases and the greater reluctance of civil law judges to organize and direct the lawyers involved in mass cases; and the panel on settlement, in which Prof. Francis McGovern (Duke University Law School) led a rapid-fire interrogation of mass compensation program designer-administrators with experience ranging from Iran, Sierra Leone and Kosovo (Dr. Norbert Wuhler) to the U.S. 9/11 Victims Compensation Program and the British Petroleum Gulf Claims Facility (Kenneth Feinberg). Mr. Feinberg followed up his panel presentation with a lively keynote speech at dinner that night.
The success of conferences like this depends critically on the participants, and this one benefited not just from the carefully prepared contributions of the panel chairs and panelists but also from the lively participation of attendees. This 5th international conference was also favored by a succession of beautiful venues arranged by Dutch colleagues, from the Dutch Council for the Judiciary, scene of the opening night reception; to the newly refurbished and beautiful Raad van State where the conference sessions were held; to the elegant De Haagsche Club, the venue for the conference dinner. All in all, it was a very special event.