Martin Solc – already, as Secretary General, the first officer of the Management Board ever from Central and Eastern Europe – was elected Vice President of the International Bar Association at the organization’s Annual Conference in Tokyo on October 23, 2014.
Solc, a founding partner of the highly-regarded Kocian Solc Balastík law firm in the Czech Republic, will assume the second-ranking position in the IBA in 2015 from current Vice President, American David Rivkin, who will become the organization’s President. It is customary – though not automatic – that the Vice President becomes the next President, so it is expected that Solc will replace Rivkin as President in 2017 as well, thereby becoming the first IBA President from CEE.
Solc was first elected an officer of the Czech Bar in 1990, and he was sent to the IBA’s annual meeting in Venice shortly thereafter. "I started to attend regularly for the first 5-6 years as President or an officer of the Bar," he explains, "wearing the hat of the Czech Bar."
He continued to attend even after his specific obligations with the Czech Bar ended, and in following years he was elected Co-Chair of the Eastern European forum (1998-2000), Member of the Business Law Council (2000-2004), Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute (2009-2010), and played important roles in both of the two divisions of the IBA (the Legal Practice Division and the Public & Professional Interest Division), including, from 2006-2008, serving as an officer and chair of the Public & Professional Interest Division – the first lawyer from CEE to head one of the two Divisions.
When asked about the demands and obligations of the Vice Presidency, Solc refers first to the significant travel required of the Executive Board. He points out that the IBA itself has over 60 conferences a year, and members of the Executive Board are obliged to represent the IBA to other global organizations as well. Solc says the President often spends up to 7 months a year on the road (he describes the Presidency as "quite a difficult thing"), and part of his role as Vice President will be to go where the President can’t.
As a result of these obligations, Solc has already had to sacrifice many of his previous duties with Kocian Solc Balastik. "I completely gave up my role in the management of this firm," he says, "and I gave up all kinds of marketing activities." Still, he’s not completely removed from his work in Prague. "I insisted on keeping some part of client work," he says. "I am a lawyer, and I love it, and I will be trying to work – but I know that during the actual Presidency this will have to be limited even more than today."
Given the time commitment and impact on his practice, it is suggested to Solc with a smile, that achievements of this kind are often accompanied by a fair amount of ego. Solc accepts the question respectfully and thinks carefully before answering. "To say that there was no element of ego would be untrue," he answers. "There is always an element of ego involved. If you decide to work in an organization, you put your life into it, this is the natural end horizon of that long journey. You want to do it, you want to complete the job."
"But the other part is," he continues, "you believe you can come up with some good ideas and move the organization to somewhere you think it needs to be. So there is an element of altruism in it, but I can’t say it’s only altruism." He smiles. "Czechs are low key people who don´t like to speak about pride. My mother is proud – she is 80 and eagerly listens to everything. So that’s the pride. But I hope I’ll be able to contribute – I don’t want to spend time in the office and achieve nothing."
Asked what particular achievements he’s hoping to obtain, Solc describes with enthusiasm an initiative he started several years ago to put the IBA online by streaming content from its conferences, to "connect those lawyers around the world who aren’t always able to attend or able to afford to travel." The "IBA Digital Hub," Solc notes, was begun in 2012. It is in a beta version now, and he expects it to formally launch on the IBA website in a couple of months.
Martin Vychopen, the Chairman of the Czech Bar Association, was enthusiastic about the vote, saying, "I would like to extend my warm congratulations to Martin. No Czech lawyer has ever held a higher position in our profession. At the same time, Martin has not forgotten to express the interests of the Czech Bar Association within the IBA and I think it is thanks to him that Czech lawyers have a good reputation on an international level. I hope that the IBA’s tradition – that the Vice-President usually becomes the President – will continue and that Martin will be elected IBA President in 2017."
The IBA was established in 1947 by 37 national bar associations. The London-based organization now has over 50,000 individual members, coming from over 200 individual bar associations. It holds over 60 conferences annually, which are attended by more than 5,000 lawyers. The 2014 Annual Conference in Tokyo was opened by the Japanese Prime Minister and the opening ceremony was attended by the Emperor and Empress of Japan. The 2015 Conference will be held in October, in Vienna.
This Article was originally published in Issue 6 of the CEE Legal Matters Magazine. If you would like to receive a hard copy of the magazine, you can subscribe here.