By Bob Andelman

Jan 1, 2009

Corporate Meetings & Incentives Magazine

It would be hard to find anyone who’s traveled the career path of TYRA W. HILLIARD, Esq., CMP. Having moved from meeting planner to CVB staffer to hotel catering pro to lawyer to educator, Hilliard has a rare perspective on the industry. Now, she’s combining her skills as a consultant and teacher in George Washington University‘s Department of Tourism & Hospitality Management while maintaining a Washington, D.C., law practice that represents associations, nonprofits, and independent meeting and event professionals.

Corporate Meetings & Incentives: How many legal issues come up in the world of meetings and events?

Hilliard: More than you would think. In fact, it was my experience as a meeting and conference planner and hotel catering manager that eventually drove me to law school. I realized that one of the biggest issues for meetings was contracts and liability. That was even before attrition and cancellation clauses were common and before we had so many monetary damages just for performance issues. There were a couple of attorneys specializing in the meetings industry back then, but not too many. I decided that was a niche that would be good for me, and, best case scenario, I would be able to help planners with the kinds of legal issues that I wished I had known more about when I was a planner.

CMI: Looking back at 2008, airlines’ reduced schedules and other woes have played havoc with meetings. From a legal perspective, can planners protect themselves?

Hilliard: When maintenance issues grounded the American Airlines MD-80 fleet in March, that created attrition situations for a lot of groups. People couldn’t get to their meetings or couldn’t get home from them. And with cutbacks, established routes to second-tier cities were suddenly no longer there, which created some interesting issues. The problem is that the law doesn’t always look at that as a no-fault sort of thing. To some extent, this is a business risk that you take when you choose a destination for your meeting, and your people book their airfare. Everybody wants a contract clause that will protect them like a suit of armor, but I don’t think there is such a thing. But language has come out of some of those situations that’s been applied in similar situations that can protect people, like making sure they negotiate strong attrition clauses.

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