Monthly Archives: December 2016

Exporting American Lawyers to China

A few decades ago there hardly any such field as international law – only domestic law representing clients with funny sounding names. Although that situation has changed, the globe is not yet as borderless as the media would have us believe it is. Nevertheless, US lawyers are heading to China in increasing numbers to practice “cutting edge” foreign investment law, and many of these adventurers are fresh out of law school. Conventional wisdom has it that heading overseas straight out of law school will ruin your career back home should you ever want to relocate stateside.

I beg to differ. I know of a young man who graduated from law school in the mid-nineties with a high GPA, fluency in Mandarin Chinese, and experience as a Summer Associate in the Beijing office of a major international law firm. He had caught the “Asia bug” and returned so fast that his diploma had to be mailed to him across the Pacific. Around the turn of the millennium he returned to the US to test out the theory that “you can’t go home again”. With only a few months of effort, he landed a premium position as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut, making a full dollar an hour above minimum wage (plus tips!).

Look in the Mirror: Let’s get serious. Before you take a leap across the Pacific, take a look in the mirror and ask yourself this question: “Am I an ‘international Lawyer’, or am I an ‘International lawyer’?” (note the differences in capitalization). What’s Plan B in case practicing law in China falls through? Will you be practicing law in the United States, or will you be teaching English in China? What excites you about China law – China, or law? Because when all is said and done, an office is an office, whether it’s in Beijing, New York, or London. And like it or not, the inside of an office is where the average lawyer spends most of his/her waking hours. Likewise, legal work is legal work; there’s not any exciting difference whether you’re consulting with clients and drafting documents in Chinese, English, or Serbo-Croatian.

The Prestige Factor: It’s very stylish these days for medium and large sized law firms to prattle on and on about “our China Office” – and it allows for the issuance of impressive-looking bilingual business cards. It’s become such a potent status symbol that a many firms (I strongly suspect) are holding on to money-losing offices in China just so they can keep Beijing on the list of cities where their firm has offices. Medium sized law firms in particular like to set up China offices to prove to their clients their status as Big Time International Players – sort of like the teenager who won’t shave off his peach fuzz because it “proves I’m a man”.

Better to forget about the prestige factor involved in practicing international law overseas. Holding a prestigious job is like marrying a fashion model – it’s cool at first, but hey, law is a jealous mistress – after a couple of months the magic wears off and you’re going to have to live with her day after day, for better or for worse.

“Our China Office” Strikes Again: “Our China Rep Office” is more like it. Keep in mind that in China, Representative Offices may not allowed to engage in profit-generating activities. So how do US law firms get away with it? To be sure, a few of them are mostly engaged in the Western legal side of sophisticated cross-border transactions (and thus not generally in the market for new graduates), but the rest are practicing Chinese law illegally. They get away with this in Beijing (not so often in Shanghai) because the Chinese authorities turn their heads, ignoring the wounded howls of jilted (and well-qualified) Chinese lawyers. The reality is that many foreign investors still feel more comfortable retaining US lawyers even though top Chinese lawyers are far better able to understand legal and linguistic nuances that American lawyers are likely to overlook. In other words, US lawyers are tolerated by the Chinese authorities because they help attract foreign investment. When the English language ability of Chinese lawyers improves enough to inspire greater confidence among foreign investors, the Chinese government may start rolling up the welcome mat for foreign lawyers. And it won’t even take a new law to throw them out – only enforcement of existing law. Imagine the spectacle of former China investment lawyers returning to the US wearing sandwich boards reading “Will Litigate for Food”. Don’t get caught in mid-career all dressed up with no place to go.

Lawyers without Borders: Don’t be silly, there is no such thing (is there?). “Doctors without Borders” makes sense because human anatomy is basically the same everywhere. Not so with legal systems – even in the wake of increasing standardization of cross-border business transactions, there will always be pesky little barriers (like local bar associations) that will stand in the way of the international free flow of legal services. The law is not the best career choice if you want to live overseas. Let’s face it – you should have gone to business school instead.

A Loophole: China allows legal advisors who are not admitted to the local bar association to work in certain jobs that would require bar membership in the US. Included among such positions is corporate counsel – at their best, 9 to 5 jobs that come with six-figure incomes. In case six figures isn’t enough for you, these positions often provide opportunities for greater wealth as the company grows – stock options, for example.

A Philadelphia Personal Injury Lawyer

It is your job to be very actively involved with your case from day one. That is the best way to ensure that your lawyer does his job properly. Many personal injury attorneys are overworked or are simply too lazy to do the job right without prompting. Everyone has heard that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Nowhere is this truism more important than in personal injury litigation.

Especially if you have entrusted your case to one of the larger personal injury firms, your case may be pushed onto an associate who has nothing financially to gain by handling your case in an aggressive manner. The famous partner known for several multi-million dollar jury verdicts may simply not have the time for your little case. Don’t be surprised if some fresh faced 24 year old gets handed your file. Now don’t get me wrong. Many young lawyers are filled with energy for effective battle with the insurance companies. But many are handling a hundred or more other files and yours may be placed on a very slow assembly line.

Worse, the associate may have no financial stake in your case. The arrangements vary from firm to firm, but at the vast majority, the only lawyer who has a financial interest in your case is the one who brought the case into the firm. The lowly associate who actually ends up processing the case is undoubtedly on straight salary. His financial incentive is to turn over his cases with the least bother to him, even if this means settling the case for less than it’s worth. On the other hand, if you retain a solo practitioner or small partnership, the lawyer who handles your case will actually receive the attorney’s fees earned on the case. Nothing motivates like a financial incentive. Even though lawyers are ethically bound to zealously represent the interests of all their clients, human nature should tell you that you will do best if your lawyer has something to gain by the aggressive and forceful prosecution of your case.

Staying active throughout the process is important regardless of the lawyer you retain. If your case has been shuffled off to an associate, this is especially key. You should insist on receiving copies of all correspondence your lawyer sends out on your behalf. You should also ask for copies of all letters from the insurance company and its lawyers. You should also review your medical records for accuracy. This is the only way you can know for sure if your lawyer is being straight with you. Also, since the lawyer knows you are keeping close tabs on him, he will be sure not to “back burner” your case. In other words, he will know that unless he stays very active, you will be contacting him with difficult questions. It is your right to know what is going on at all times with your case. And it is your right to have a lawyer who will aggressively pursue a rapid and fair settlement of your case. Do not accept anything less. The squeaky wheel does indeed get the grease.