Thursday, February 14, 2008

You want to do WHAT?

Everybody can grasp how global our economy has become when they look at manufacturing industries. But have you ever thought about the impact of globalization upon the practice of your hometown lawyer?

I am not talking about the mega-firms charging mega-prices. We all know they have special departments which deal with international legal issues; heck, they even have subspecialties on this specialty (international employment, international tax, international business, international litigation, international arbitration, customs laws, etc). Their attorneys often work for one client for many years, tend to focus in one small area of law, and never deviate from that area.

But does that mean the rest of the profession is restricted to a local practice? Not so. It is not realistic to expect that firms with less than 100, less than 50, less than 15, less than 2 attorneys will never face an international issue.

The real question is: How do local attorneys handle the client who comes into the office with a unique problem? What questions do they need to address with local businesses (or individuals) who suddenly go global?

REAL ESTATE: Are there tax and non-tax implications to representing a foreign citizen purchasing or selling real estate in the U.S.? What are the implications if you are attempting to set up a business entity (corporation, LLC or equivalent) for the holding of that real estate?
ESTATE PLANNING: If you represent globetrotting individuals with residences in the U.S. and abroad, what are the tax implications of the dual residence? Does the estate plan you drafted take into account enforceability under international, U.S. and foreign laws? Are there certain documents your clients will need to have authenticated for use abroad?
FAMILY LAW: Are you familiar with how foreign laws regarding marriage and divorce affect enforceability of the U.S.? What do you do if a client advises you his/her spouse took their child to a foreign country? How do you counsel a client regarding obtaining child support from a foreign resident?
LITIGATION: How do you serve a foreign business or individual with a summons and Complaint? Are you able to engage in discovery in a foreign country where a party or non-party is resident, and, if so, what are the limitations? Can you enforce in the U.S. a judgment obtained abroad in either litigation or arbitration? Can you enforce in another country a judgment obtained in the U.S.?
SMALL BUSINESS: Obviously, there is the forward-looking small business owner who has a dream, and wants to expand into the international arena. Maybe the company will be a U.S. agent or distributor of an international corporation; maybe the company wants to dangle its own toe into another country's pond, where it will soon learn how foreign laws, U.S. laws, international laws will impact upon contracts with vendors, clients, agents and distributors.

I'd love to hear about other times where someone's traditional, local clients have suddenly and unexpectedly gone global. Over the next few weeks I will be taking a look at these situations more closely, and provide resources for small and mid-size law firms facing these new, sophisticated, worldly clients.