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So many countries, so many rules for attorneys to follow. When dealing with Asian clients, be careful how you handle business cards, and be attentive to who sits where. In Latin countries, be prepared for two-hour meals before talking business. In China, save the small talk for after the deal. And in France, you may want to arrive to a meeting fashionably late. Globalization of the legal world has led more lawyers to travel overseas and work with foreign clients, so grasping another country’s customs can make or break a lawyer’s deal. “There are many lawyers going abroad who are not aware of the differences, so they offend someone,” said Tanja Diklic, who helps bridge the cultural gap between Americans and Europeans as the director of business development and client relations in the New York office of SD Petosevic, a Belgrade, Serbia, law firm. “I’ve seen people lose business over this.” Clifford Chance’s junior attorneys have role-playing assignments, which involve cultural differences. Holland & Knight often has lawyers spend time in some of the firm’s six international offices, where they get acquainted with the cultures of other countries. Associates from all 18 offices of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker recently met in Marina del Rey, Calif., where they learned about each other’s cultures and their countries’ business practices. DLA Piper’s managing partner, Terry O’Malley, said his firm often relies on employees with knowledge of a particular culture. “If I get on an airplane and fly to Hong Kong, I have 90 colleagues there ready to take care of me,” O’Malley said. A number of big firms, including Baker & McKenzie; Holland & Knight; New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges; and Houston’s Fulbright & Jaworski, said they do not provide cross-cultural training specifically, but touch on these issues during workshops on diversity as well as informal discussions and attorney exchanges. Lawyers familiar with other countries’ business etiquettes said they often tip off their colleagues. Frederick A. Brodie, a litigation partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, warns that it may be impolite to address Japanese executives by their first names. He also advises American lawyers to put everything in writing and avoid unfamiliar abbreviations when working with foreigners. Business card tips Like others who have worked with Asian clients, Brodie stressed the importance of a proper business card exchange, a much more formal ritual than in the United States and done with two hands. One lawyer said a Japanese businessman never picked up a card that an American lawyer threw on a conference table as if he were playing poker. American lawyers’ styles tend to be more aggressive than those of Asian lawyers, so they could come off as offensive, said Sarah Jones, a partner at Clifford Chance. “The flexibility of how you deal with people is important,” she said. “I watched that be very detrimental to a transaction.” In many Asian countries, it is also important to know who sits where, said Howard Chao, a partner at O’Melveny & Myers who is in charge of the Asia practice. In Japan, the honored guest typically faces the door and the most senior employee sits in the middle of a table, he said. Chao, who was born in Taiwan and now works out of his firm’s Shanghai, China, and Silicon Valley offices, said American lawyers should also know that large meetings in Asia often serve as “theater,” since much of the actual negotiating takes place in smaller sidebar meetings. Lawyers working with Asian clients should also pay attention to how they draft their documents, he said. “It’s kind of countercultural, but people like to see contracts that are more concise and get to the essence of it without much verbiage,” Chao said. “So you can offend someone or put someone off by delivering a document that’s over the top.” Meeting the VP When working in Latin America, lawyers should be prepared to meet with high-ranking government officials, such as a country’s vice president, as the government gets very involved in a lot of transactions, said Anibal Martin Sabater, an international arbitration adviser at Fulbright & Jaworski. Lawyers should also expect lengthy lunches and dinners, since there is a strong emphasis on personal relationships, said Paul Hastings’ Dino Barajas, a partner who is the co-head of the firm’s Latin American projects. “Rather than just jumping into negotiations or putting out their main points from the beginning, there needs to be a kind of appreciation for the other person, their background, some type of common ground,” said Barajas, who also makes it a point to use chopsticks and try sake in Japan and to express his appreciation for foie gras in France. “It’s almost akin to dating.” By contrast, one lawyer said the chitchat typically comes at the end of meetings in China. In France, arriving for a meeting on time may be a faux pas. Akiko Mikumo, a member of the management committee at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, said she drew puzzled looks when she showed up 20 minutes early for a dinner at the Paris home of a general counsel’s wife. “You’re supposed to come at least 20 minutes late,” she said, adding that has been changing as the French become more familiar with Americans’ punctual habits. And in Russia, vodka is often served along with handshakes during business lunches, said Gary P. Kaplan, a partner in charge of tax and international groups at San Francisco’s Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, which is part of the International Lawyers Network, an association of 87 law firms with more than 5,000 lawyers in 68 countries. “Each person at the table is expected to stand up and make a toast,” he said of several business trips he took to Moscow last year. “People get a little tipsy to this day over business meetings.” The opposite occurs in the Middle East, where Clifford Chance once organized a seminar. The firm ensured that it was being respectful toward Islamic guests by not serving alcohol. Meanwhile, Epstein Becker & Green’s Lowell Lifschultz learned how important connections can be in other countries when a Moroccan lawyer proudly told him that he knows the king. Other things are simply learned by trial. During a speech in England on U.S. sexual harassment laws, a Clifford Chance lawyer tried to be polite by using the word “fanny” to describe a case in which a store manager inappropriately touched a female’s behind. It was only afterwards that he learned that in England, that word describes a female’s other private parts. Different roles In some countries, lawyers’ roles may be completely different than those of American lawyers, said David Williams Russell, a partner in Indianapolis’ Harrison & Moberly, which also belongs to the International Lawyers Network. “They may not be able to answer your question or may try, but may be thinking ‘This isn’t my job, I’m not a businessperson, I don’t answer business questions,’ ” Russell said, naming Mexico as an example. “ You’ve got to realize they don’t always view themselves as problem solvers.” This occurs because some foreign attorneys are more accustomed to citing the law instead of putting it to practical use, which is what most American lawyers do daily, Russell said. In parts of Eastern Europe, lawyers are often not used to 24-hour turnaround time and deadlines, said Kathryn Szymczyk, a Canadian who has been working for a year and half as the director of legal strategies and client services at SD Petosevic. “They are not used to producing a commercial product; they are more used to just reciting a law as opposed to really understanding a client and where they are coming from to produce a concrete solution,” said Szymczyk, who said further that a part of her job is to “westernize the office. “You can’t overestimate enough the effect cultural differences will have.” Some lawyers said law firms don’t invest in cross-cultural training because it can’t be linked to billable hours. John Conroy, chairman of Baker & McKenzie, the world’s largest law firm, said his firm prefers to use a recruiting model designed to identify individuals with a number of skills, including cultural sensitivity. “It’s not terribly effective to have a workshop or a course that will tell you how to receive business cards,” he said. “There frankly are much more important ways of serving clients that vary from one culture to another that you can’t capture completely through a crash course. It’s more effective to have people who are culturally sensitive.” Brian Szepkouski, a certified trainer at Etiquette International in New York City who also runs his own intercultural management consulting business in New Jersey, said corporations are proactive when it comes to cross-cultural training, but law firms tend to be more reactive and wait for a pressing issue to come up. But Mary Crane, a lawyer who heads Mary Crane & Associates, which consults Fortune 500 companies and law firms on various issues, including business etiquette, said law firms have been paying more attention. “They are recognizing this is critically important,” she said. “Working in a global economy, one needs to have an understanding of international protocols. It’s an ounce of prevention.” Kaplan, from Howard Rice, said large law firms should consider such investments so that American lawyers don’t learn through mistakes. “You’re kind of an ambassador of your country every time you go abroad to do work,” he said. “We’re considered ignorant, so to try to break that as a stereotype, I think that type of training would be highly appropriate,” he added.

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