by Sarah J.F. Braley | January 01, 2005
The number of lawsuits between planners and suppliers seems to be increasing, according to two top meetings industry lawyers.
    Jonathan T. Howe, of Chicago’s Howe & Hutton, and John Foster, of Atlanta’s Foster, Jensen & Gulley, base their findings on the increases they’re seeing in their own workloads.
    Howe blames ambiguous language in contracts, where the parties’ responsibilities are not laid out clearly enough, while Foster believes “hotels are now thinking short-term. In other words, they want their money now.”
    Foster added that the potential to gain a planner’s repeat business by not suing doesn’t mean much anymore. “The thinking is that the future will take care of itself,” he said.
    Back in the 1990s, one option for handling cases between planners and suppliers was a dispute resolution committee run under the auspices of the McLean, Va.-based Convention Industry Council and featuring a panel of industry experts trained in legal arbitration. But the service went unused, and the 16-person committee was disbanded in 1998.
    Both Howe and Foster say arbitration still is a good route to take, however, especially if the amount of money in question is small, say less than $100,000.
    Industry professionals who query the CIC looking for information on arbitration Mary Power, president and CEO of the council, said she gets about 12 such requests each year are directed to the American Bar Association ( Interested parties also can contact the American Arbitration Association (
    Howe said he generally does not like to put an arbitration clause in his meetings contracts, “but when we get into a dispute, I am willing to talk about going to arbitration for expediency and small infractions.”
    Foster does include what he labels a dispute resolution clause, a paragraph that calls for mandatory arbitration for cases involving $75,000 or less. “If disputes are more than this amount, arbitration is optional, but both parties have to agree to it,” he said. His clause also allows for traditional legal discovery to take place, including the giving of depositions.
    Finally, Foster said, “I include wording to the effect that issues of law, but not issues of fact, can be appealed. Normally, arbitration awards are not subject to appeal.”