The Counsel

Expat Experiences

By Aarij Wasti

There was once conventional thinking that a lawyer, be she a Barrister and/or a Solicitor, was tied to the land of his training and practice. A lawyer schooled in Nova Scotia and trained in Upper Canada would not likely find himself one day practisingpracticing in British Columbia. Certainly not Bahrain.

How times are a changin

We hear every few months of a trans-Atlantic union between American and British firms, the law offices of both which spanning the globe. From America to Australia, Norway to South Africa, global firms have their feet planted just about everywhere. There isn't a client need that goes un-catered.

But what of the lawyers at these firms, are they too global?

A lawyer I know attained his JD in Nova Scotia and trained and qualified as a Barrister and Solicitor in Alberta. Was he an Albertan or Canadian lawyer? He then re-qualified as an Advocate of the High Court in Punjab, Pakistan and started practice in Islamabad. Was he now a Canadian or Pakistani lawyer? He then qualified as a Solicitor in England & Wales and joined the Qatar offices of then London- based Denton Wilde Sapte. Did he even remember where Canada was at this point? Denton Wilde Sapte last September combined with then Chicago based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP. Does he now work for an American or British firm? Or Swiss? SNR Denton is structured as a Swiss Verein.

Or does it matter?

International practice, be it at a large global platform or out of a stand -alone London office, is what it needs to be; what the clients need it to be. A client comes to a lawyer in [insert here?] for advice on a dispute between his Cayman registered company and an Australian Pty. The contract in dispute is governed by New York law but has an LCIA arbitration provision with Dubai, the venue and England, the seat.

Where does he book his ticket for?

Either the world is shrinking or it is truly becoming one big village. The fact is that today's business world goes where the money is (or at least where they don't have to spend too much of it). This means industry and therefore its in-house counsel have legal needs which literally are without boundaries. The private practitioner of the day, regardless of her address, has a simple question to answer: can she or can she not help the client in [insert here?].

In other words, a lawyer is as localized, or not, as she wants.

This does not of course mean that the lawyer needs to be part of a giant firm. Nor does it mean that the lawyer needs to be qualified in every continent. There are a number of avenues available to lawyers to work outside their box: outsourcing to local counsel, inter-firm alliances, membership in global alliances, working with colleagues having a practice in the jurisdiction in question and, establishing a presence on the ground.

There is no one right way to practice internationally.

One common thread that transcends boundaries is cultural awareness and sensitivity. The US legal world is generally document heavy but very open to creativity; the UK is formal and legal practice is usually task-based; the Middle East is all about sustained relationships and legal practice more about practicalities than rules and precedent; Pakistan is an intricate weave of all of the above. Regardless, simple awareness of the unique way in which clients work in each jurisdiction can go a long way in satisfying a client.

So in this doggy dog world of global mergers and expansion, is there room for the little guy?

Yes. As they say, it's all in the walk. With the right attitude (add a pinch of confidence and a table spoon of luck/ good timing) just about anything is possible. It's not only London and New York firms at the forefront of global legal services today. Singaporean, Lebanese, French, Norwegian, Swiss and other firms have been spotted making their (significant) marks. Costa Rican and firms from other developing countries have been seen red-eying to vast corners of the planet to get a piece of the pie.

The only restriction, again, is that self- imposed.

As for the Canadian in Bahrain- yes, that too has happened. The Canadian firm Blakes has recently opened a Bahrain office with a view towards further international expansion. Other Canadian firms have been seen flying in and out of the region in hopes of riding the wave.

As for Pakistani firms, well, there is certainly a market. We all know there are Pakistanis literally everywhere- even Vanuatu I'm sure. Not all of our brethren are building sky-scrappers; a good number are financing them. The work is there, if someone wants it. In fact, the longer firms and lawyers wait, the later they are to get theto the party (this is not a Pakistani wedding therefore not a good thing).

And if nothing else, at least there are air miles to be earned. Lots and lots of air miles. Handy for that next get-away to the Caymans. For work. Of course.

The author is an Associate with SNR Denton & co, Doha, Qatar, and holds a Bachelors degree from McGill Univercity and an LLB Dalhousie Univercity (Canada).