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As business becomes global, so does Atlanta’s legal community, where some firms are utilizing visiting foreign lawyers. One of the city’s more recent foreign additions is Beatriz Cochrane Mattos, a Brazilian corporate and banking attorney who joined King & Spalding earlier this summer. Mattos practiced with Brazil’s second-largest firm, the approximately 200-lawyer Tozzini, Freire, Teixeira e Silva Advogados. She opened the firm’s office in Brasilia, and headed it for two years. But like her foreign counterparts here, Mattos can’t take the Georgia bar exam or practice law because she doesn’t have a U.S. undergraduate or juris doctor degree. Both are required for bar applicants. So Mattos, who has a law degree from a Brazilian university and an LLM from Boston University, will work as a consultant on business matters while her husband, who worked for K&S client Coca-Cola Co. in Brazil, works toward his MBA at Emory. Whether foreign-trained lawyers should be allowed to take the Georgia bar and practice here is becoming a hot-button issue. Two local lawyers say opening the bar to foreigners is integral to Atlanta’s growth as an international city, and that the exclusionary rule makes permanent recruitment of foreign talent difficult. “I think it’s provincial for Georgia not to allow for that,” says Reinaldo Pascual, the co-chairman of Kilpatrick Stockton’s Latin American group. “We call ourselves an international city, an international state, yet we don’t welcome foreign lawyers like California and New York do. That’s one of the reasons we lose a lot of the international work to those states.” It’s also one reason the city loses foreign legal talent, says Alston & Bird international partner Ben Greer. He says his firm offered to send a Japanese lawyer with a foreign law degree and an LLM from Duke University to a U.S. school where she could get her U.S. juris doctor degree. She declined the extra education and now practices in Tokyo. The firm also recently lost a British lawyer to Kirkland & Ellis in California-a state that allows foreign-educated lawyers to sit for the bar. It’s a system, says Pascual, born of fear that foreign lawyers will invade U.S. turf and steal clients. BAR’S RESPONSE That’s not a fair statement of Georgia’s rationale for the rule, says Hulett H. Askew III, director of the Georgia Supreme Court’s Office of Bar Admissions. He says that, in part, it’s a matter of valuing a U.S. legal education. It’s also a matter of screening foreign applicants. Years ago, foreign-educated lawyers were admitted here if their educations were deemed equivalent to a U.S. education. But Askew says that in the early 1980s, before he joined the bar office, more and more attorneys from non-English-speaking countries applied for admission. Georgia and many other states responded by requiring domestic degrees because it was too difficult to determine what was an equivalent foreign education. The rationale, according to Askew, is that it’s not enough to pass the bar exam. It’s important for Georgia lawyers to be steeped in the legal culture a domestic law school offers in addition to a thorough knowledge in uniquely U.S. law-the Uniform Commercial Code and the U.S. Constitution, for example. Askew acknowledges that as foreign boundaries become less relevant from a business perspective, the bar and the state Supreme Court, which has final authority, may need to find another way to deal with the issue. Alston & Bird’s Greer, along with other attorneys, have discussed the issue with the Board of Bar Examiners. Greer says the board was sympathetic, and that he will propose a hybrid license allowing foreign attorneys to practice business law here, but not appear in court. “You have to have a first-class professional structure if you’re going to have an international business structure of the first rank,” he says. Atlanta and other U.S. cities are expanding their Latin American practices, says Horace Sibley, partner-in-charge of King & Spalding’s Atlanta-based work there. Sibley cites the 1994 Summit of the Americas as a factor driving Latin American business here. He says that during the summit, which included all countries in this hemisphere except Cuba, leaders agreed to foster democracies with competitive markets and to form a free-trade area in the Americas by 2005. King & Spalding now has about 30 lawyers in its four U.S. offices handling Latin American work, and about six deals are pending, he says. Though the firm has Brazilian clients, most of its work there is for domestic companies, including UPS, Coca-Cola, Home Depot and Sprint. Even though Mattos can’t practice here, her Portuguese language skills, knowledge of Brazil’s civil law system and ability to communicate with Brazilian governmental authorities are very valuable to clients, Sibley says. Kilpatrick Stockton’s Pascual says his firm’s Atlanta office also gets value from its visiting foreign lawyers such as Paula Holfeld from Argentina and Luis Perez-Eguiarte from Mexico. Both come from firms with which Kilpatrick Stockton has strong business relationships. Holfeld was an associate with Allenda & Brea in Buenos Aires and is handling Argentine-related securitization work; Perez-Eguiarte practiced with U.S.-based Baker & McKenzie in Mexico City and has helped Kilpatrick Stockton structure south-of-the-border deals and negotiate with government officials. Learning U.S. law helps the foreign firm and lawyer, and Kilpatrick Stockton clients benefit because it gives them an “on-the-ground idea” of how to do business in foreign countries, Pascual says. Still, he says foreign lawyers could contribute even more-and help the city develop-if allowed to take the bar and practice here. “As for putting out the welcome mat for international business,” he says, “this is key.”

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