Building an International Law Practice

by | Apr 26, 2024 | LinkedIn Newsletter

One Journey at a Time

Any you may find yourself in another part of the world…Any you may ask yourself ‘Well, How Did I Get Here?”  The Talking Heads[1]

I just finished an epic 22-day business trip to Dubai and Southern India.

How and why I even started practicing law again in 2015 was based on a natural progression of learning and applying. Through my business and corporate experience, I knew all about branding and marketing which led to my trademark practice.  I also learned a ton about business management and finance, so building a firm focused on helping businesses was a no-brainer.  I quickly learned and am still studying the intricacies of eCommerce as many of my clients are in that space.

Like me, my clients also evolve, many to the point where their businesses become cross-jurisdictional.  For example, the moment my eCommerce clients either sell a widget in Canada or receive a shipment from Hong Kong, international law is in play. So in order to service my clients, I needed to quickly build an international component to my representation.

Why do Business/IP Clients (especially in eCommerce) need International Representation?

Our foreign clients work with US counsel because, quite simply, the US is a large and important market. So for example, if the client was an Australian dog food brand. Once they have a hold on their maybe Australian/New Zealand market, they need to expand, and the US is the logical place because we are the largest consuming nation in the world.

For my American clients, its businesses don’t exist in a US bubble. For example, the supply chain is global which means that there are international law considerations to take into consideration in contract terms.

Each jurisdiction has its own laws and nuances requiring legal input.  IP protection generally must be considered country by country.  There are tax considerations, shipment terms, agreements to be negotiated, employment and independent contracting issues, product/patent protection, trade secrets to protect, and treaties to interpret.

How I Built the International Component of My Practice

Besides the fact that I was the butt of everyone’s jokes in my consistent attempts to learn Spanish, through the years I have built up the requisite skill set to build an international client base.   Before law school, I worked for US Congress, so I understood diplomacy.  I am intellectually curious. I love making connections.

Between my interests, industry focus, and related connections, I began to get more and more calls from international clients who wanted to either sell goods in the US or expand their US operations outside the US.  So again, while I was sitting in law school many years ago, I didn’t think I would be traveling around the world, a combination of my interests, expertise, clients, and industry focus got me on the plane, and my clients’ needs kept me going.

At the same time, while it is great to aspire, it is an entirely different exercise to actually make your dreams a reality. Here are three things that I continue to do to build my international legal competence:

A) Join/Participate in an International Network

When I just started EmergeCounsel, I joined an international professional services network, IR Global. Immediately, I was affiliated with a worldwide network of similarly situated firms.  So if I have a matter in, e.g., Sweden, I have an immediate vetted resource to provide local advisory.

While that is a great resource in and of itself, relationships really matter.  I go to at least two IR Global events a year.  The latest is my adventures in Dubai.   I believe that traveling to the IR Global events has allowed me to build amazing bonds that have transcended my nationality.   And we also conduct business.  For example, in Dubai, I worked on a US/EU distribution agreement with German counsel and negotiated an Indian contractual matter. I also was able to help colleagues from Singapore and the UK on various trademark and contractual matters.

B) Breaking Bread

Breaking bread is generally a universal concept. Everyone wants to get business done, and sometimes I would rather be chilling schlep to a factory in Bangalore.  But I have learned when I  take the time to get to know the people I am working with or for, it creates an authentic, meaningful relationship based on trust. I believe that pays off big time in both business and life. And a little travel goes a long way.  No one expects me or even wants me to visit every year, but I can tell you that my closest international clients have received at least an offer of a visit so understand their motivations and goals.

C) Staying Educated and Connected

There are a few things I quickly learned about international business and IP law that made this endeavor far less daunting.

Most countries that I work in/with have relatively similar legal structures. So, I can basically identify what my client’s legal issues are in any country and know what resources we will need to address those issues.  It is like a Spanish person trying to understand the lay of the land in rural Cuba; the language is somewhat the same, but the nuances are not.

There are also commonalities in issues that pop up. Trademark infringement is trademark infringement, whether it is in Saudi Arabia or the US.  A contract is a contract.  A dispute is a dispute.  There are international treaties and shipping codes.

While that all provides a great background, I relied on my involvement with the World Trade Center-Denver (“WTC”), where I earned a Certificate in International Trade, which covered import/logistics law, export compliance, international contracting, trade finance, eCommerce, international taxation, and intellectual property.

Between IR-Global and WTC, I have been able to build a network of international mentors and referral sources…which led me to my two-week journey with WTC to Chennai and Bangalore. Through IR, I began to collaborate on Indian/US matters with Eshwars, Advocates based in Chennai.  At a WTC event, I learned Denver and Chennai are “Sister Cities” and that the World Trade Center was going on an official visit to Chennai to celebrate with officials from the U.S. Department of State, Denver Mayor’s Office, WTC, the government of Chennai and the state of Tamil Nadu, and I knew that we needed to work with my friend Eshwar Sabapathy to sponsor and facilitate.

My next big trip is to the International Trademark Association Conference in May, where I will meet with many of my other international trademark contacts.  Amazon will have a huge presence there, and I hope to learn more about their initiatives.

I just need to get some rest!

[1] © 1980 Byrne/Frantz/Harrison/Weymouth/Eno.


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