Archive for the ‘Practice Tips’ Category

International Lawyers Boost Success with Coaching and Mentoring

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Below is my latest article for The Complete Lawyer titled Boost International Success with Coaching and Mentoring.

 

Why do international lawyers hire coaches or seek mentors? Often, it’s to help them exceed their prior performance. Perhaps they want to develop more clients globally, make partner, get promoted, or become leaders within their law firms or field. Sometimes international lawyers work with coaches or mentors to help them with a career change or redirection, within or outside the law. This is especially true now during the global recession; lawyers are increasingly seeking career coaching when they lose, or anticipate losing, their jobs.

Professionally trained coaches use their skills to help lawyers figure outand attain the career (and life) that the lawyers want. Coaches may be hired by an individual lawyer or the lawyer’s employer. Usually there are contractual confidentiality restrictions in place governing what information (if any) the coach can disclose.

As an executive coach who specializes in working with international lawyers, I have seen the unique challenges that international lawyers face. These include trying to develop practice areas and clients in far flung locations, grappling with legal issues under unfamiliar legal systems, working outside the lawyer’s comfort zone, making career choices across the globe, and even struggling to break into the international field or move within the international profession. Because working across time zones and cultures only heightens the difficulty of these issues, many international lawyers turn to coaches as they progress in their careers.

Like lawyer coaches, mentors serve as trusted counselors or teachers. However, unless the lawyer’s employer has a formal mentoring program in place, the coaching relationship is often an informal one created between the two parties. Ideally, the mentee and mentor discuss the parameters and expectations of their relationship, and agree to confidentiality and other structural issues.

Coaches Become Truth Speakers

Many lawyers want their coaches or mentors to be unbiased sounding boards. As explained in What an Executive Coach Can Do for You (Harvard Business School), professionals want their executive coaches to be “truth speakers” (a term coined by Harvard Professor Thomas DeLong). As the article notes, many professionals seek coaching, especially in times of great change or stress, to get one-on-one focused attention from an impartial guide. Often, the professional cannot get such unbiased feedback from family, friends or colleagues.

One of my clients in an international boutique was having trouble developing clients in Latin America; he was too abrasive. As his coach, I had to be a “truth speaker” and tell him so. We worked together to help him identify his ideal clients, and then build meaningful relationships with them.

Sometimes being a “truth speaker” requires coaches to deliver difficult news. For example, I recently coached an aspiring international practitioner about his career; although initially disappointed, he appreciated getting feedback that he needed more international experience to compete effectively in the market. This truth set him free from his frustrating job search. We then created strategies for him to enhance his international credentials and improve his marketability.

The ability to speak the truth is just as vital to effective mentoring. Lawyers should seek mentors who will give completely honest feedback. Some lawyers arrange for a group of mentors, each of whom will provide a fresh, unique perspective.

If the mentor works in the same firm, the mentoring relationship may even enhance the mentee’s career. Pippa Blakemore, Strategic Business Partner in the London-based PEP Partnership LLP, notes that mentoring enables the mentor to introduce the individual to his/her international contacts, immediately bestowing creditability. It also facilitates the mentee building contacts with his/her peers at the international level so strengthening the firm throughout the world. A mentor’s knowledge of countries, jurisdictions, clients, colleagues, customs and cultures will be of great benefit to the mentee. It will prevent him/her making gaffes which leads to insulting people and even, in the extreme, losing clients.

Of course, in today’s economy, a mentor can also guide a mentee towards work with viable clients and help the mentee to develop marketable practice skills.

Choose The Right Executive Coach Or Mentor

When selecting a coach or mentor, make sure that the fit is right. Choose someone who is perceptive and experienced enough to be helpful. As the coachee or mentee, you have to be receptive enough to accept any proffered feedback. For this reason, it is wise to interview executive coaches in advance; this way, you can make sure that you communicate well before solidifying the relationship.

Many lawyers turn to coaches who have professional experience in their field. (That’s why, as an international lawyer turned coach, I have so many lawyer clients who work, or want to work, internationally.)

Similarly, a mentor should have either the professional experience or perspective that will benefit the mentee. The mentor must also be available and devote time to the relationship. Mentors should participate willingly, not because their employers have coerced them into the relationship.

If a firm or organization creates a structured mentoring program, it needs to be well thought out. As Ms. Blakemore explains, “Mentors need to be committed and enthusiastic. This means that they (with guidance from other mentors and HR) will create a relevant programme; be accessible in times of need and follow-through the process to an agreed conclusion . . . if ever. Mentors are often still in touch with mentees after they have retired or left the organisation.”

Build Morale

If done well, a mentoring program will have the added benefit of strengthening firm morale. Ms. Blakemore notes, “Mentoring is a unique opportunity to combine the experience of the more mature members of the firm with the creativity and enthusiasm of youth. This will maintain the feeling of involvement of the more senior members and help to increase the motivation of the junior members. Many junior lawyers feel overlooked, neglected and ignored until they do not meet billable targets, when they become the centre of attention. Effective mentoring can counter many of the feelings of disillusion.”

Even talented international lawyers are suffering in this global recession. Getting the support of a trusted advisor, like a lawyer coach or mentor, can bring much needed guidance and support during these tough times.

Staying in Touch with Home while on the Road

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

This week finds me in New York and away from my family–twice.  NYC for three days, home for three days, and then back to NYC again.  Why didn’t I just stay put for the whole week?  (Indeed, after multiple travel delays, I’ve been asking myself the same question…)

However, I wanted to see my family.  Staying in touch on the road is always a challenge.  And so, I was glad to run across this article–albeit a very short one–from About.com with tips on communicating with family members while traveling. As How to Stay in Touch with Family explains, tech tools like Skype and webcams make it a lot easier to feel connected.

One international lawyer supposedly raced back to her hotel every night to read her children bedtime stories via webcam. A perfect solution it is not, but it certainly helps.

Currency Crunch: Getting Paid in Pounds, Pesos or Pulas

Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

With more clients located abroad, attorneys are increasingly being paid in foreign currency.

Billing and receiving payment in foreign currency raises a host of questions, beginning when the client pays a retainer.  Some firms require that the client pay a retainer in the firm’s national currency; other firms accept payment in the client’s native currency, and then convert it themselves (bearing any currency fluctuation risk and often any currency transaction fees).

The ABA’s Law Practice magazine’s June issue discusses this topic in Dollars to Dinars: Billing and Collecting in a Global Market by David Bilinsky and Laura Calloway. The article also explores the pros and cons of bearing currency risk, implications for financial statements, whether to bill in a foreign currency, and the like.

Regardless of whether a law firm will receive British pounds, Mexican pesos or Botswanan pulas, advance planning and research prepares lawyers to be paid by international clients.

Become a Versatile, Nimble, Flexible–and Exceptional– International Lawyer

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

For tips on how to Become a Versatile, Flexible, Nimble–and Exceptional–International Lawyer, read my latest article for the international column of The Complete Lawyer online magazine.

Become A Versatile, Flexible, Nimble And Exceptional International Lawyer
Adjust your international practice to meet market demands.
By JANET H. MOORE

Become A Versatile, Flexible, Nimble and Exceptional International Lawyer

International lawyers need to spot issues that arise both across jurisdictions and outside their expertise

By Janet H. Moore

Click these links for a specific section or read the entire article below:

  • Be Versatile, Flexible and Nimble To Succeed In International Law
  • Gain Exposure to Different Legal Systems and Jurisdictions
  • Spot Critical Issues
  • Adjust Your International Practice To Meet Market Demands

Exceptional international practitioners realize that remaining versatile, flexible and nimble benefits their practice. This versatility helps them resolve client inquiries even though clear-cut answers across legal systems are often impossible to find.  Good international lawyers know how to handle this uncertainty by drawing on their wealth of experience when advising their clients. They are able to notice and analyze important issues in complex international matters, and track down the requisite answers from foreign counsel, original legal sources and other resources.

Law firms are beginning to acknowledge the benefit of such versatility. According to David Morley, Worldwide Managing Partner of the London-based Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy, “we need to develop versatile lawyers capable of working in more than one discipline. So when a partner has career discussions with an associate who wants to experience other practice areas, we must encourage that where we can.

Gain Exposure To Different Legal Systems and Jurisdictions

How can international practitioners enhance their versatility?  Gaining exposure to legal issues in different geographic areas, under different legal systems (such as Sharia and civil law, as well as common law), and in a variety of legal disciplines, will broaden a lawyer’s experience.
As Gerard Meijer, a partner with the Benelux firm NautaDutilh who specializes in international commercial litigation and arbitration notes,  “As a litigator, I have become versatile as I have acted in a wide variety of disputes. In fact, Gerard’s international practice has exposed him to clients and issues across the world.  “We represent a Dutch insurance company in an investment arbitration against the Republic of Poland regarding the Republic of Poland’s refusal to comply with its commitments to transfer shares in a Polish insurance company to our client. We also act for a UK defense company regarding the setting aside of an arbitral award between our client and the Iranian Ministry of Defense.  At the moment, I also sit as arbitrator (inter alia in a matter regarding the distribution of professional skates in Korea).”

Like Gerard, many international practitioners handle matters involving a wide variety of jurisdictions.  Looking for opportunities to become familiar with the laws of various jurisdictions, and to get some real world experience in those venues, will increase an international lawyer’s effectiveness and prepare him or her for whatever arises.

Salli Swartz, a partner in the Paris-based firm Phillips Geraud Naud & Swartz, often works on complex border transactions involving multiple jurisdictions. As an American trained attorney who now lives and practices in France, Salli specializes in assisting foreign companies investing or otherwise doing business in France. During one transaction she found herself “drafting and negotiating in the English language when I was the only native English speaker present: the others were from 6 different countries with 6 different languages and at least 3 different legal systems and all of them thought that their English was better than mine!! For one simple sentence there were 6 different interpretations of the meaning.”  Having an understanding of the laws of these different jurisdictions helped Salli handle this situation with aplomb.

Spot Critical Issues

Becoming versatile as an international lawyer does not mean becoming an expert in multiple fields.  No practitioner can master and keep up with the countless legal specialties that exist. However, an international practitioner should try to amass enough knowledge to be able to identify critical issues on a client’s behalf.
Sebastien Savage, who practices in the Montreal office of Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg, may face hundreds of different issues in any given month, which makes his work challenging and exciting. Sure, it is stressful, he says, “but I firmly believe that staying flexible and versatile as an attorney has enhanced my practice, both in terms of the number of clients and in terms of the quality of services delivered. Sebastien also stays informed about his clients’ businesses: “I find that the more I know and the better I understand the businesses of my clients, the better equipped I am to face the requirements of evolving in a global economy.” Lawyers living and working in foreign offices particularly need to be able to spot issues.  Rather than remain isolated from the wealth of knowledge in their home offices, these foreign-based attorneys must sharpen their issue-spotting skills so that they can raise red flags when needed.

Once an international attorney spots an important issue outside of her expertise, she must then know how to resolve it.  Sometimes this requires bringing in foreign counsel, and perhaps most important, knowing the right questions to ask in order to get a clear response. For example, asking a civil law lawyer questions while using purely common law concepts and lingo will confuse the situations and may result in an inaccurate or unclear answer. Salli Swartz notes the particular challenge of “trying to explain to American/Anglo Saxon legal systems clients the differences between consequential damages under U.S. law and direct damages under French law.”

Many successful international lawyers improve their understanding by digging into the original legal sources”even those written in foreign languages rather than relying on secondary translations. Using a dictionary, and comparing an original legal text with multiple English translations of it, can give a lawyer critical insights about what a foreign law really says and means.

Adjust Your International Practice To Meet Market Demands

Sometimes a lawyer plans to develop a particular international specialty, but client and market demands cause the lawyer’s practice to evolve in a different way. A versatile international lawyer is well positioned to respond to these changes. As Ed Lebow, who practices in Haynes & Boone’s Washington, D.C. office, explains, “My college concentration was in Japanese language, history and culture, and that set me up to handle antidumping cases for Japanese clients into the middle 1990’s.  However, with the changes in the Japanese economy and the decreasing number of new US antidumping cases brought each year, particularly against the Japanese, I needed some flexibility.  For me, that has meant a subtle shift in both my subject matter and geographic emphasis. While I still do handle antidumping and countervailing duty reviews, much of my newer work is in the much more active area of ITC Section 337 investigations that address imports that allegedly infringe US patents. And my clients are now more likely to be located in India (dumping and countervailing duties) and Taiwan (Section 337) than in Japan.”

Having the flexibility and versatility to respond to market changes, as Ed does, helps an international practice thrive even when the market shifts.

In other words, versatility makes a lawyer more attractive to clients. As Gerard Meijer explains, I really get the impression that clients appreciate that I have been involved in a variety of disputes, which gives the client the confidence that I can make myself familiar with their case.

After all, that’s what all lawyers strive for: a client’s confidence and satisfaction.

_________
FOOTNOTES

1. “We Listened to Associates.”  Now Partners have to Do Their Bit”, TheLawyer.com, 23 October 2006.

Negotiating Across Cultures Like a Genius

Saturday, November 24th, 2007

Many of us think that good negotiating requires special talent.  Two Harvard Business School professors beg to differ.  As Deepak Malhotra and Max H. Bazerman explain in their recent release Negotiation Genius:  How to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Brilliant Results at the Bargaining Table and Beyond,  anyone can learn systematic strategies to negotiation success.

The authors describe in detail how to claim and create value in negotiation, how to use strategies of influence, and the like.  Lawyers will hearken back to law school when the authors use the case study method as a teaching tool.

Although the book doesn’t delve deeply into cross-cultural negotiation, it does emphasize the importance of building trust between the parties–particularly in the cross-cultural context.  The authors also discuss negotiation strategies used by diplomats; high level diplomats recognize the importance of, and gathering relevant data in anticipation of, the future.  In contrast, the authors note, most negotiators focus too much on current issues and fail to look forward.

 

During an email exchange with Deepak Malhotra, he shared some additional thoughts about international negotiations.  First, I asked him whether there were any specific resources that he recommended about building cross-cultural negotiation skills.  He replied,  “I have yet to read a book on cross-cultural negotiation skills that has impressed me. Part of the problem is that there are too many differences across cultures, and often there are many different cultures across industries within the same country. As a result, broad (and even moderately broad) generalizations do not help much. The best resource is talking to people who have negotiated in the part of the world you’re now entering. And, even if you don’t have access to any such person, there’s nothing wrong with having a candid conversation with your counterpart in the negotiation about their (and your) perspectives and expectations.”

 

Second, I asked him to identify the biggest mistakes that US negotiators make during cross-cultural business negotiations, and how to avoid such mistakes.  Deepak Malhotra answered: “For the most part, gone are the days when US negotiators were so ethnocentric that they walked into a negotiation in another country assuming that everyone shares their norms and values. However, two mistakes are still quite frequent. First, many negotiators rely on stereotypes and broad generalizations regarding how ‘people in that country’ negotiate. Many of these beliefs are anchored in decades old anecdotes and folk wisdom that have not been sufficiently updated and are not particularly nuanced. Second, negotiators spend too little time on ‘cultural differences’ other than those that relate to norms and values. For example, too little time is spent understanding structural problems that can arise in a foreign country such as (1) how easy is it to run a business in that country, (2) how strong and reliable are the legal institutions in that country, (3) how much of a role does the government play in business negotiations (e.g., by controlling permits), (4) how reliable is the infrastructure (e.g., roads, communication, etc.) in that country, etc. These elements, when they are not anticipated, can entirely derail otherwise well-conceived deal.” 

 

Great point.  As any international business lawyer knows, such “structural problems” often make or break the deal.Many thanks to Deepak Malhotra for sharing his wisdom.