The meaning of being an international lawyer

What is the actual meaning of being an international lawyer nowadays? Clients do not only need a law expert, 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 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 their legal system is 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 counsellor for them. Sometimes we are expected to know more than everything.

When dealing with an international context, it is worth spending 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 language skills, you will have the opportunity to 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 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 appreciate it when you say just a couple of words in Dutch. It is a sign of politeness and rapprochement.

Of course, it is really difficult to become an expert in a certain language when this language is not your mother tongue; the same regarding the knowledge of the 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 a 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 to do business with your client or solve 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 life (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 handshake 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 handshake but the other party thinks you prefer to be kissed…those situations are kind of funny and show how well 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, 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 from different countries from whom you may hear soon again. Besides, if you have the opportunity to be a speaker in some of these workshops/seminars, it would increase your opportunities to be heard by the potential client. He could be interested in you not just by your 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 participate. People always prefer active people to passive.

In conclusion, we should become more familiar with the culture of the country with which we are dealing and become professionally more participative, increase our network and not be scared of new projects. No risk, no fun.

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Please note that this article is not intended to provide legal advice.

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