Lawyers Group Pulls Surfing Contest Sponsorship for Fear of Lawsuits

July 28, 2006

The nation’s lawyers are coming to Hawaii, and some of them apparently have no fear of sharks — unless they’re the kind that file lawsuits.

About 40 lawyers have signed up so far for the National Lawyers on Longboards Surfing Contest scheduled during the Aug. 3-8 American Bar Association convention in Honolulu.

But the ABA has pulled out of sponsoring the surfing competition. The event organizer says the lawyers are afraid of being sued.

“It’s really funny — the ABA won’t officially sponsor it for liability reasons,” said Lea Hong, a Honolulu environmental lawyer and surfer.

Hong is planning to go ahead with the contest and a luau on the convention’s last day.

She said the ABA overreacted.

“They were freaked out about the liability issue related to a surf contest, even though we had liability insurance and everything,” Hong said.

Hong hopes to register 60 surfing lawyers. About 10,700 lawyers in all will be in Honolulu for the ABA conference.

Organizers of the surfing event have required that all participants sign a liability waiver, and lifeguards will be on duty in case anyone gets in trouble, Hong said.

“Lawyers have a reputation for going out and having fun and staying active, but you don’t think about lawyers going out there and surfing very often,” said Richard Hamar, a Beverly Hills litigator who helped found the 250-member Association of Surfing Lawyers, which has about eight of its members participating in the Honolulu event.

ABA spokesman Dave Jaffe said he couldn’t immediately comment.

Knowing lawyers, Hong said she made sure the rules of the contest are loophole-free, and the judges will be unassailable.

“Lawyers are always going to complain about the rules — I’ve thought a lot about this,” said Hong, a partner with Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing.

In place of the ABA, the Hawaii State Bar Association and legal publisher LexisNexis have stepped up to sponsor the event.

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