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“Cultural differences often cause us to attribute different meanings to the same set of facts.” So declares professor Susan Bryant of the City University of New York School of Law at the outset of her widely read monograph, “The Five Habits: Building Cross-Cultural Competence in Lawyers” ( Clinical Law Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, 2001). “We are constantly attaching culturally based meaning to what we see and hear, often without being aware that we are doing so,” she writes. “Students who are taught about the potential for misattribution can develop strategies for checking themselves, and their interpretations.” Hence the Five Habits, a handful of practice tips and attitudes that Bryant has developed with professor Jean Koh Peters of Yale Law School. Young attorneys who have made the passage from campus to real-world law are likewise encouraged by their firms to bear in mind Bryant’s message, as well as a practical rubric: cultural blunders can be expensive. FAUX PAS Nothing is worse, for example, than a lawyer telling a bewildered client to ask questions of anything that he or she fails to grasp. “Clients from some cultures will feel reluctant to ask for clarification,” according to Bryant, “for fear of offending the lawyer or embarrassing himself.” Robert J. Kafin, a partner with Proskauer Rose, suggested that such potentially costly faux pas are avoidable. When Proskauer expanded its Pacific Rim clientele a few years ago, for instance, the firm made a concerted effort to respect large and small differences between the U.S. and Korean cultures. “We sent lawyers to language school, we made an internal study to understand how business is done in Korea — in what respects it’s different,” said Kafin. “Little things are important, too. Like table manners, how you greet people, what the expectations are for business gifts and entertainment. “This can’t happen by osmosis,” he added. “The law is a service business, after all. We need to be very attuned.” Need may vary among firms, but the law is inescapably like any other vital American industry — increasingly global in its daily dealings. And surely all law firms are aware of the ever larger multiracial and multicultural nature of the U.S. census. Therefore, partners and law firm administrators speak of cross-cultural training in terms of external and internal. “Externally, it comes very naturally,” said Kafin. “Good lawyers are used to going into negotiations or courtrooms or government agencies and being very, very quick studies about how you behave in order to be effective. “Internally, we’ve felt a greater need to do some structured training.” Professor Peters agreed. With reference to the Five Habits, she said, “They identify the things that many thoughtful, experienced lawyers have been doing for a long time — things that should permeate a lawyer’s daily interactions with people [because] more and more we’re in cross-cultural situations whether we know it or not.” At New York’s Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, internal training in cultural sensitivity begins at the summer associate level. But it hardly ends there, said Jodie R. Garfinkel, director of associate development at Skadden. “For at least 12 years now, we’ve had diversity training for everyone from associates through support staff and partners,” Garfinkel said. “Once every two or three years, everybody goes through it.” With the aid of various consultants, and the firm’s own diversity committee, Garfinkel said she likes to keep the Skadden Arps approach flexible. “Different people have different techniques,” said Garfinkel. She acknowledged that not every idea works. “We had Berlitz come in once for a program on doing business in a multicultural environment. Quite frankly, we got mixed reviews. “But we always start out at the basic level: making people aware of how they view other people.” That fundamental is the specialty of Vern� Myers, a lawyer-consultant from Newton, Mass., who is popular with a number of Manhattan firms. The consulting firm, Vern� Myers & Associates, is rather selective, said its founder. “I’m not willing to just pop in and do training for two hours, or three, or a day. I’m really interested in other things being in place within the culture of the firm,” said Myers. “I ask the firms, Do you want me to just laminate the answers on a little card to pass out? This is so much more complex. Cultural competence is a lifetime thing.” Valerie Fitch, director of attorney development at San Francisco-based Pillsbury Winthrop, has often brought Myers to gatherings of young lawyers at her firm’s East and West Coast offices. “She’s a wonderful mix of information and challenge,” Fitch said of Myers. “She helps you realize yourself — what kind of family you came from, your religion, your culture. “We all have our own frame of reference, we all look at things from very different perspectives,” said Fitch. “To examine the root of our own bias, that’s how we increase our awareness and appreciation of differences in others.” To that end — and along the lines of cross-cultural training — Fitch recently completed a major seminar at Pillsbury’s New York office on the subject of doing business in Japan. Presenters included Takeo Akiyama, a New York partner at Pillsbury and head of the firm’s Japan practice, and Mitsuo Isoda, a visiting attorney from Tokyo. Among the seminar’s power points: � Japanese value trust relationships and are not, therefore, quick to change lawyers. � Misunderstanding creates mistrust. � Your Japanese language skill is useful only if it is more effective than the communication skill of Japanese clients in English. � Explain legal phrases like “motion for summary judgment” and “collateral estoppel.” Avoid Latin. � Remember: Your memo may be translated by someone unfamiliar with U.S. law and the matter at hand. � Above all: Request and obtain authority in writing. In her presentations, it could be said that Myers covers the diversity waterfront with a special eloquence, from the first level of human comfort to the very definition of cosmopolitan. “My job is to help people move their [corporate] culture to a place where peoples of all backgrounds are welcome, and can thrive,” she said. “There’s a real advantage to law firms when they figure that out. When people get along better, when they feel more connected to their space, creativity and productivity is increased. “Otherwise, you’ve got the most common symptom — avoidance,” said Myers. “This stems from a lack of familiarity with people who are different. It happens on both sides, the majority and the minority. “All voices are important. Everybody has a worldview. The idea of a cross-cultural world is that there are multiple truths existing in the same place. “I’m successful when I’m able to help the people who are fish in water notice the water — notice how the environment works well for them because they’re fish and they’ve created water. They need to notice that there are others who don’t find the water so advantageous.”

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