A Brief Encounter With Today's Top Legal Issues

Successful Meetings: As president and founding partner of Howe & Hutton Ltd. law firm and a longtime member of the meetings and hospitality industry, you have been outspoken on issues surrounding intellectual property (IP) protection. Where is the industry on that issue?

JONATHAN HOWE: I think that most planners and suppliers don't even have a grasp of the issue of IP. It is exacerbated by the Internet; people not knowing what they should or should not do, relative to the Web, has become an increasing problem. For example, I may have a hotel in Pennsylvania, but if I do something on the Web, it's out there to the whole world. So the question becomes, which jurisdiction's law is going to apply?

SM: You have been very involved with the Accepted Practices Exchange (APEX) panel on best practices for industry contracts. How will planners benefit from that panel's work?

HOWE: My feeling is that we cannot and should not come up with a standard contract because one size does not fit all. Every meeting is unique. What should come out of the panel are exactly that: best practices. There are some contract elements for which you can have uniform language, but it's more important to develop a checklist of what should be in the contract, as well as alternatives.

SM: What are the legal issues of most pressing concern to the meetings industry today?

HOWE: After Hurricane Katrina, the big thing is what liability do I have as to my meeting and, more importantly, what liability does my supplier have to me under my contract? A second thing is risk management. We live in this environment of terrorism, so what legal risk am I willing to accept and how am I able to limit my risk? A third issue, again hearkening to Katrina, is crisis management.

SM: In our litigious society, what must a planner prepare for to be protected from lawsuits?

HOWE: I just heard one of the more interesting lawsuits lately; it dealt with a lady who claims the concierge at the hotel told her the wrong way to get to the airport, and as a result she missed her flight. The irony is that she drove to the hotel from that airport. It's absolutely specious. The point: You can always be sued, so be prepared for it, and do those things which are reasonable under the circumstances to be able to respond to that lawsuit. It boils down to this: What are the obligations of the planner? Well, you're not obligated as a planner for the concierge, but be prepared if that contention is made.