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Professor advocates ethics in international finance at Qatar Law Forum

Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Raj Bhala

LAWRENCE – As usual, Raj Bhala boarded a plane this spring as part of his rigorous regime of traveling, presenting, and networking. But even for Bhala, this event was out of the ordinary.

From May 4-6, Bhala, the Rice Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas School of Law, visited Doha, Qatar, with his wife at the invitation of Sir William Blair, a justice on the Queen’s Bench and brother of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. He delivered a major panel presentation on “International Finance, Ethics and the Rule of Law” at the Qatar Law Forum, which included more than 400 lawyers, jurists, and scholars from 60 jurisdictions and 20 law schools around the world.

“It was interesting to be at such a cosmopolitan event talking about complex financial transactions, but asking really simple questions,” he said. “My job was to try to prove that we can reinvigorate what we mean by law and ethics and show both can, indeed must, play a role in regulating market conduct.”

Bhala and his wife, Kara Tan Bhala, CEO of the Seven Pillars Institute and lecturer at KU’s School of Business, were the only delegates from the University of Kansas and the entire Midwest/Great Plains region at the forum. His panel included his former boss, Thomas C. Baxter Jr., general counsel at the Federal Reserve in New York; and Harish Salve, a distinguished Supreme Court advocate from India. Sir William Blair moderated the panel, which addressed the need for ethics, given that regulations do not keep pace with rapidly changing, complex financial transactions.

“This audience is very favorably disposed to challenge the bankers and banking lawyers to do better,” Bhala said. “They all want to see not only tougher legal rules, but also firmly-grounded ethical practices implemented by market participants.”

Because Qatar is a small country and has the world’s largest reservoir of proven natural gas reserves, it is per capita the wealthiest country in the world. And the country successfully leverages that wealth to draw high-profile conferences and events, including the 2022 World Cup and the 2001 launch of the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations. Bhala noted that hosting a major international legal conference is consistent with Qatar’s efforts to enhance its regional and global influence.

“The Qataris really know how to host an event,” he said. “They flew everyone business class, they held the event at the Ritz Carlton, they paid for three meals a day, and so on. They make you really like the place and have good feelings toward it.”

Apart from presenting on his panel, Bhala spent time attending other panel presentations, learning and networking. He broadened his global contact network to share with students, gained more insight into the nuances of Islamic law for his classroom instruction, and promoted KU Law and the university to a diverse, distinguished audience.

“I spent a lot of time in in-depth discussions with leading lawyers and law professors from places like Pakistan and England,” he said. “I shared with them what we are doing at the KU International and Comparative Law program.”

Attending such a vaunted conference allowed Bhala and his wife to brush elbows with dignitaries from around the globe. One evening in the hotel elevator, he even bumped into the bathrobe-clad chief justice of Rwanda returning from a swim, and passed along a Jayhawk business card. Despite their high standing, conference attendees spent very little time focused on self-promotion, and were much more interested in substantive, face-to-face conversations about global understanding and commitment to ethics.

“They are there genuinely to learn and to grow, and they’re not there to hawk their ideas,” Bhala said. “You sit down for dinner with lords and you would feel very small if you were self-promoting.”

For more information about the conference, please visit www.qatarlawforum.com.