Global Lawyering in Practice: Alumni worldwide speak to students in virtual events during the Spring 2021 semester

Author: Notre Dame Law School

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As part of the Global Lawyering Initiative, Notre Dame Law students increasingly have a number of opportunities to pursue work experiences abroad during their legal education. These opportunities include a growing Honor Scholars Program, opportunities to gain cultural competence by studying law abroad in a variety of locations worldwide, and the London Law Program. For over 50 years the Law School’s London Law Program has offered Notre Dame Law students the opportunity to study in London and extern with UK barristers, NGOs, U.S. law firms’ London offices, and government agencies, including the U.S. Embassy. These experiences prepare students for an international practice while in the United States or to practice international law abroad after graduation. In a virtual event series during the Spring 2021 semester moderated by faculty, the Law School’s International & Graduate Programs Office gathered alumni from around the world to answer students’ questions about how to best prepare for an international legal career. These alumni shared their insights on the benefits and challenges of practicing law abroad, and shared advice with students on how to design their legal education for international legal practice and cross-border legal issues.

A common law legal education may be the best asset

As a different kind of lawyer trained in the common law system, Notre Dame Law students may be particularly well-placed to succeed abroad. Pablo Berckholtz ’98 J.D., a partner at Baker Mackenzie based in Lima, Peru, who spoke on the panel Perspectives on Multinational Law Firms, observed that the common law is taking over how law is practiced in many countries. Some of the reasons for that are historical, in light of connections to the British Commonwealth. Another reason is the prominence of U.S. markets and U.S. companies abroad, and the transactional work that may extend rules from common law jurisdictions. In his capital markets practice, Kevin Connolly ’01 J.D., counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, leads the IPOs of many foreign companies on the London Stock Exchange and on other major stock exchanges worldwide. Connolly also works in emerging markets, and shared insight into his practice during the discussion International Capital Markets in Practice.

Even though differences between civil law and common law systems are still very present, especially in litigation, training in the common law’s adversarial system gives students important trial advocacy skills which translate despite these differences. Michael Stepek ’88 J.D., a partner at Winston & Strawn in London whose practice focuses on international commercial arbitration and litigation, shared how the trial advocacy skills developed at Notre Dame gave him a distinct advantage, notwithstanding the comparative differences in litigation in local jurisdictions and in arbitration. Sometimes classes beyond international law can be the most useful. Many alumni mentioned Accounting for Lawyers, and Tom Thesing, who earned his B.A. at Notre Dame in 1989 and is now a partner at Sidley Austin based in London, emphasized the usefulness of tax law and finance.  

The New York bar may be a gateway to international legal practice, but consider the importance of your expertise as an American attorney first and foremost

As students know, obtaining a license to practice law is a crucially important part of success in the legal profession. Being licensed in two or more jurisdictions within and outside the U.S. may communicate interest in local nuances of the practice of law and an understanding of how practice differs between jurisdictions. At the same time, there may be an advantage to being an American attorney abroad with a U.S. license alone. Being licensed in New York indicates an expertise in a U.S. jurisdiction of great import to many companies with operations abroad and to individuals living abroad. This is particularly true in tax law, as Chris McLemore ’07 J.D., a partner at Butler Snow in London, and Jaime McLemore ’07 J.D., a partner at WithersWorldwide in London, shared during their panel on Tax Law Between Common Law Jurisdictions. The primary purpose of dual qualifying may be to just widen your practice areas. If lawyers work under the supervision of a local attorney, under foreign legal consultant rules in their specific jurisdiction, or with local counsel, a foreign license may not be strictly necessary. Notre Dame lawyer Will Cushing ’09, ’10 M.A., a corporate and M&A associate at A&L Goodbody in Ireland, shared how his practice places him in a unique role informed by his U.S. knowledge, like a quarterback of an international legal team, spotting cross-border issues that matter for U.S. corporations and their deals. Students should also consider that some U.S. states have reciprocity with foreign jurisdictions, allowing students to more easily waive in and dual qualify without sitting for an exam. Working as in-house counsel for U.S. corporations abroad, focusing on case management and training local talent to take over a company’s operations, may also broaden a lawyer’s reach. Forging these connections and supporting the career trajectory of locally trained attorneys from non-U.S. jurisdictions can be one of the most rewarding parts of being a lawyer abroad, as Brendan Gardiner ’00 J.D., chief litigation and regulatory counsel at Archer Daniels Midland Company, shared.

Local connections and cultural competence are key

Languages and local networks signal a commitment to being in a foreign jurisdiction and indicate cultural competence. During the panel In-House Counsels Abroad, Xiaokui Katie Shan ’93 J.D., associate general counsel at Caterpillar, and Joe Spiegler ’94 J.D., chief compliance officer and global head of litigation at Kite Pharma, embodied comparative legal dialogue by speaking of their different but complementary experiences working in China. Culture shock may be par for the course, especially as you become accustomed to operating in a jurisdiction, whether that jurisdiction is in the U.S. or abroad. The writing and communication skills you develop in law school can help bridge the gap between civil law and hybrid jurisdictions based on statutory law, and common law systems based on judicial precedent. Keeping an open mind, being flexible, and building cultural competency are keys for success. Studying abroad in law school, even if you are not fluent in a language other than English, may help you build that competency and the soft skills that often make the difference in negotiations and the successful representation of your client.

Cultural competence and success as a lawyer are also based on the training you receive early in your career. Today, many law firms are global, but early formation at a firm in the U.S. is important to build the skills needed for success in a firm office abroad. As Ashok Lalwani ’89 J.D., a principal at Baker MacKenzie in Singapore, advised, choose your first firm with care, as it is often the most formative. When combined with proper formation as a young lawyer, cultural sensitivity, language skills and local cultural awareness when you are sent abroad will make you an attractive representative of your firm and will lead to meaningful global lawyering. 

Be creative, keep an open mind, and cherish the Notre Dame network abroad

While some U.S. firms abroad have summer programs, like Winston & Strawn, and local firms may offer traineeships, like A&L Goodbody in Dublin, Ireland, planning your international legal practice and a career abroad takes creativity. Part of this creativity includes networking. Some alumni have built their international legal practices while in the U.S. offices of their firms, and then are sent to U.S. firm offices abroad based on their language skills, cultural competence, and expertise. Other alumni have found positions immediately after graduation by reaching out to fellow Notre Dame lawyers, even without an introduction, or by translating an externship opportunity in the London Law Program to a postgraduate position. In this sense, expatriate communities of Americans, as immigrants, can also be crucial as a support network, as Anastasia Tonello ’98 J.D., counsel at Ulmer, who spent over a decade as an immigration lawyer in London, shared. Keeping an eye on how markets are evolving is also important. Michael Haworth ’99 J.D., a partner at DLA Piper in New York, spent 12 years in Japan and Hong Kong. While flexibility and a willingness to be abroad might open doors in emerging hot markets, over time firms and corporations may seek more specific credentials, including extensive cross-border practice experience, language fluency, and a commitment to being in the foreign country long term. As you evaluate where opportunities are available, be open while also weighing where you can substantively add value and where you are needed, as Brendan Gardiner further advised. Being a different kind of lawyer for the world takes creativity and courage and is certainly a road worth traveling.