What is International Law?

Like many areas of the law, “International Law” is somewhat of a misnomer – what I mean is, when was the last time a business said “I need help with an international law transaction” (or securities law, or antitrust law, for that matter)?  Generally, lawyers talk about international law – clients, on the other hand, usually say they need help with an acquisition, setting up a dealership or entering into a supply agreement – it just happens that the other party is located in another country.  With that in mind, although I didn’t think this would be the case when I graduated from law school, I’m now an international business lawyer, having worked on deals in the last 6 months involving parties in Mexico, Canada, Australia, England, Poland, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Taiwan and China (and maybe other countries I can’t think of off the top of my head).

So, what does it take to be an international business lawyer?  Not surprisingly, there’s not a lot of magic – for the most part it takes the same basic skills as it does to be an effective business lawyer on domestic transactions – plus just a few other qualities, skills and tools.  Among them are the following: 

  • First, the modesty to understand that you don’t know everything;
  • Second, a receptiveness to legal principles, business customs and trade practices that are different than those in theU.S., and as a related matter, the flexibility to accept those differences, and in fact embrace them when necessary to negotiate and close the deal;
  • Third, the willingness to accept advice and input from local counsel; and
  • Fourth, access to a network of capable, qualified and talented law firms with experience and integrity that you can tap into early on and as necessary throughout the deal.

What I’m really saying is, international law, in most cases, is almost the same as domestic law – it just happens to involve 2 or more countries.  So, there’s usually no need to over-complicate things.  Determine your business objectives; identify your business strategies; engage local counsel to work cooperatively with your trusted domestic business counsel; and execute your deal.  And, of course, one basic legal rule – always insist on arbitration, and don’t accept venue (or particularly exclusive venue) in any country where you don’t want to sit in a courtroom.

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