The Meaning of Being an International Lawyer
What is the actual meaning of being an international lawyer nowadays? Clients do not only need an expert in law, but an interpreter for the international context.
Most of the clients of a lawyer operate their business in the international market. It is really common to find clients from X country, with their companies based in Y, but registered office in Delaware, and transactions all over the planet. It is really difficult, almost impossible, to find a lawyer who has a license to practice law in all of these countries. However, basic knowledge of these third countries and its legal system are crucial for the proper development of the business of our client.
Of course, clients want us to know how to deal with a lot of non-legal but related issues because we are not only their lawyers; we are also some kind of general counselor for them. Sometimes we are expected to know more than everything.
When dealing in an international context, it is really worth to spend some time living in that particular foreign country, not just a week of holidays, but a long term visit. In addition to the improvement of your languages skills, you will have the opportunity to really meet the people of this new country. By learning their habits, way of thinking, etc., you are also learning the way they like to do business.
The language is also very important. Scientists say that the language is the structure of our thinking. Thus, when you learn a language, you are also learning, maybe without noticing, the way these people think. Besides, even if English is the international language, whenever we travel to another country we should learn the basic words of it. Although in The Netherlands most of the population is fluent in English, they really appreciate when you say just a couple of words in Dutch. It is a sing of politeness and rapprochement.
Of course, it is really difficult to become an expert of a certain language when this language is not your mother tongue; the same regarding the knowledge of foreign legal system. Doing a LLM in a foreign country is of course a great option, but not always affordable to everybody. Even having a general knowledge of a foreign legal system, we still should contact a local lawyer for certain complex issues. This does not mean that our client is going to stop needing us for this particular issue. Our client is still going to need us as a translator, from the culture we come to the new culture with which we are trying to do business. Moreover, working with local lawyers is another way of increasing our network. Who knows whether this particular Brazilian lawyer is going to need our services soon? When choosing the local lawyer, it would be very interesting if she/he had an international background as well; it would be even better if she/he had any professional experience with the country we come from. This way, the translation from one culture to the other would be much easier.
When you travel abroad for doing business with your client or solving any dispute between third parties and your client, you also must know the basic rules of protocol of that country you are travelling to: do not ask a German about his private live (do neither talk about your private life); hold a visit card with both hands if a Chinese gives one to you; do not kiss twice a Spanish lawyer even if you think we Spaniards love to be kissed. A hand shake would be much more appropriate.
It is very funny when both parties, you and the lawyer of the country you are visiting, know each other’s culture. Sometimes you go for a hand shake but the other party thinks you prefer to be kissed…those situations are kind of funny and show how well does each party know the culture of the other side. To know the basic principles for dealing with people of other countries, you only need to google it and you may find the answer in seconds.
Moreover, there are quite a few lawyers’ associations, especially in Europe, Eurojuris is a good example, which organize periodically conferences, seminars and workshops. You can attend those conferences and not only improve your legal knowledge about a specific topic; you are going to meet a lot of different lawyers of different countries from who you may hear soon again. Besides, if you have the opportunity to be a speaker in some of these workshops/seminars, it would definitely increase your opportunities to be heard by the potential client. He could be interested in you not just by your personal charm, but for your legal knowledge. Not everybody is willing to be a speaker, so if you think you can do it well, you should definitely participate. People always prefer active people than passive.
In conclusion, we should become more familiar with the culture of the country with we are dealing and become professionally more participative, increase our network and do not be scared of new projects. No risk, no fun.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Almudena Álvarez Otero
Almudena Álvarez graduated with degrees in Law and Political and Administrative Sciences from the Universidad Autónoma of Madrid. She completed her Law degree at the University of Cologne (Germany), where, in addition, she worked at a lawyer’s office specialized in employment law.
Before joining Mariscal & Asociados, Ms. Álvarez undertook a work placement with a parliamentary group of the Regional Assembly of North Rhine-Westphalia, in Düsseldorf. In 2008, she also worked with an international office in Brussels.
She is specialist in labor law, litigation and renewable energy law. Member of AIJA (Association de Jeunes Avocats) since 2008 and of Jurismus (Eurojuris International).
Languages: Spanish, English, German, French and Dutch.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.