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Since 1973, a certain few young American lawyers have had a golden opportunity to become players on the international business stage: to learn how to navigate a different culture, how to find common ground, and ultimately how to do the deal. This year’s fortunate lawyer is Ayaz R. Shaikh, 36, special counsel in the project development practice group in the New York office of O’Melveny & Myers. Along with 24 other professionals from around the country, Shaikh will be part of the U.S. delegation to the Young Leaders Conference in Hamburg, Germany, during the last week of August. The conference is sponsored by the nonprofit American Council on Germany, founded in 1952 in the wake of World War II to promote political, economic and cultural understanding between the two nations. But over time, the knowledge and friendships developed during the conference has come to affect more than two large nations. And in particular, the role of lawyers in guiding nations and corporations through the sea changes of recent world history has increased beyond the expectations of most Americans. Certainly beyond those of Shaikh, who arrived in Los Angeles from Bombay, India, at the age of 6 when his parents emigrated to America. The idea was that young Ayaz — today a graduate of Yale University and Georgetown University Law Center — could know better opportunities than were available to a boy in Bombay. Now comes further opportunity with the Young Leaders Conference. Shaikh’s international background was attractive the council’s acceptance committee. He had been nominated as a conference fellow by a Yale classmate — Bradford A. Berenson, a White House counsel and former partner at Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. “Right now, what I’m doing in the developing world is impacting the lives of so many people,” said Shaikh, speaking of the commercial contracts he hammers out between private corporations and governments, principally in Asia. “I have this romantic sense that I’m really making a difference.” Among those differences, Shaikh was instrumental in negotiating the $2.8 billion Dabhol natural gas energy plant near his native Bombay, a project of Enron International, the Bechtel Corporation and General Electric. It was no easy task, given India’s socialist tradition, fractious politics and a litigious tendency second only to that of the U.S. Under the circumstances, a long view of history is crucial to the chore, Shaikh said. It’s not always a widely accepted outlook. “Sometimes, they think you might be crazy,” Shaikh said. “I’m sitting down with [government] officials who’ve never had to think about investment, and why transparency is important, and why you have to have reports and accounting. “I’m actually going to bring light? Electricity? How can you have a computer-literate society without electricity?” Meanwhile, the deals that Shaikh is doing abroad — in India, Thailand, Pakistan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Algeria and Russia — have increasing importance to the United States in this era of global economics. “Lawyers need to have more business awareness than was necessary perhaps 15 years ago,” said Rigdon Boykin, an international transactions partner at O’Melveny in New York. “The U.S. in general is less aware of doing business overseas than people in countries like Germany, France and Switzerland. “There are really very few good international business lawyers around [in the U.S.], and we’re starting off behind the eight ball,” he added. “That’s because our [American] clients are less experienced in international deals than clients in foreign countries. “For people like Ayaz [Shaikh] to have this opportunity in Germany only increases his business awareness and his world awareness, which is good for lawyers competing on the edge.” Attorneys who preceded Shaikh in earlier conferences of the American Council on Germany heartily agree. “You have this common ground with fascinating people,” said Patricia Matzye, counsel at Carter, Ledyard & Milburn who attended a 1982 conference held in San Francisco. “Experts in military defense, artists and academics, and an assortment of current and future elected officials. “You bring your own prejudices, and you hear others,” she said. “You put Germany in the context of Europe, and the U.S. in the context of the world. It’s interesting to see how others view us. And they’re quite candid views, I might add. “Your average young lawyer doesn’t get that.” Matzye, 50, said she sees people to this day from the San Francisco conference. “We call ourselves the Aging Young Leaders,” she said. “We count each other’s gray hairs.” Richard T. Roberts, the recent commissioner of New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), was a 1996 conference attendee. Formerly with the firm Davis Polk & Wardell, Roberts, 37, is president of the Urban Investment Group at Goldman Sachs. “As a direct result of the program, I became very interested in some of the similarities in urban revitalization in the U.S. and Germany,” said Roberts. “Particularly in the eastern part of Germany, where I wound up establishing an exchange program between housing department employees there and here in New York.” The foreign exchange initiative launched by Roberts back in 1996 remains a component of the HPD’s Housing Community Development Fellowship Program. Such initiatives are the sort of thing that the American Council on Germany seeks to foster through its conferences. That and long-lasting friendships built from cross-cultural understanding. PULLING DOWN WALLS Eleven years ago, when Michael A. Watson attended a Young Leaders Conference, Germans had just torn down the infamous Berlin wall in their drive toward reunification. “Of course, we had East Germans at the conference,” said Watson, 40, vice president and general counsel for New York Life. “It was the first time they could talk with Americans who had been demonized for so many years. And for us, they’d always been epitomized as the German version of what Stalin wanted. “When you meet on a people-to-people level, a lot of tension dissipates,” he said. “When you get to know people, you think twice about blowing them off the face of the earth. When you’ve met people and you know them and you’ve spent time in their world, then you can’t fall for the propaganda.” Ignoring propaganda and seeing past surface differences makes for an effective international lawyer, said Shaikh. “People want the same things, they respond to the same things, their experiences growing up are often the same,” he said. “Once you get past the language, and the immediate and obvious cultural differences, you learn that people have much more in common than otherwise.” Shaikh is quick to suggest that this is more easily said than done by international lawyers. “When you work abroad, you’re it,” he said. “In domestic deals, when you have a question you can go down the hall and ask someone. There’s not that safety net when you travel. In Asia, for instance, the time zone differences don’t exactly facilitate making phone calls back home. “And you tend to be more than just a lawyer,” he added. “The company you represent relies on you. You’re part of the commercial decisions because you find that the legal and commercial aspects of the deal are so closely tied.” O’Melveny’s Boykin suggests that his younger colleague will have much to contribute to the Hamburg conference, which over the years has seen numerous participants take important seats in the American and German governments. U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., for instance, was a conference fellow. “Ayaz is extremely sensitive to the competing issues of the various parties to a deal,” said Boykin. “He also takes ownership of a deal. There are lawyers who don’t feel responsible in more than just a service sense. Ayaz has ownership. That’s the difference between an okay lawyer and a great lawyer.” Like your average great lawyer, Mr. Shaikh spent a good part of last week — as he will in all the weeks leading up the Hamburg conference — preparing himself to speak to such momentous issues of the future as trans-Atlantic free trade, the economic effects of the European Union on the U.S. economy, and foreign policies promulgated by President Bush and Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister. But midweek, he took time off from his preparations to attend to an issue of his personal future. Mrs. Shaikh gave birth to a boy.

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