Your Client’s Cultural Identity May Not Be What You Assume.

One thing that I most loved about studying at the London School of Economics (and, for that matter, at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service) was the multi-cultural student body and faculty.  The LSE’s curriculum was also brimming full of rich topics dealing with issues of culture, ethnicity and the like. 

It’s no surprise that the current issue of the LSE Magazine includes an interesting article by Alan Manning and Sanchari Roy titled Culture Clash or Culture Club? The article–which is particularly timely in light of the recent UK terrorist intrigue–examines the religion and ethnic background of various immigrant populations and their level of “British identity” after residing in Great Britain. 

The authors’ research study found one factor most contributes to whether an immigrant reports to having a “British identity”: how long the immigrant has been in the UK.  The authors also report that “immigrants from poorer and less democratic countries assimilate faster into British identity”, in part because these ethnic groups tend to take on British citizenship.  (In contrast, the ethnic group least likely to assimilate is the Italians; these immigrants continue to identify with Italy–no doubt due to its better cuisine!)

In other words, the report contradicts the prevailing view in Britain that, for example, Pakistani Muslim immigrants, remain primarily loyal to their home country.

What does this mean to you as an international lawyer?  It means that when dealing with another party (clients or opposing counsel), and their country of origin differs from their country of residence, don’t assume that you know their cultural identity. 

Instead, stay curious. Ask yourself, has this person assimilated into the new culture and adopted its values? If so, how much?  Or, does this person still identify with and live by the values of his/her native land, and only begrudgingly accommodate the values of their new country of residence? 

These values show up throughout communication–such as the high value that many Latin Americans place on relationships, wanting to cultivate them before doing business with someone.  Or, for example, Germans are known to value, respect and defer to authority figures.  Any international lawyer lucky enough to give a presentation to a group of Germans will find them better behaved and more punctual than their American counterparts.  

 Paying attention to these cultural values–and tailoring your interaction with clients and opposing counsel to reflect and respond to these values–will improve your interaction immeasurably.  

This post was adapted from the author’s 7-24-07 post on her blog at

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