around the bar
August 14, 2012

Adding to Your Practice Across the Pond: Not Just for the Big Firms Anymore

David Steiger, author and member of the adjunct faculty at the DePaul University School for New Learning, provided a rationale and tips for lawyers working overseas during the Annual Meeting program “A Global Practice for Everyone: Insights Into Creation and Management of Overseas Operations.”

The Great Recession has not halted the trend toward globalization, Steiger said. Further, roughly half of the U.S. companies able to export for the first time or increase exports to new markets in 2011 were small- and medium-sized enterprises. As more and more clients need global legal advice, they increasingly demand business models that deliver better value.

What will better value mean in the future? According to J. Stephen Poor’s May 7 New York Times article — as Steiger described — lawyers should be thinking outside the box. The article states, “Lawyers today should be asking themselves nontraditional questions: how to apply resources more effectively, to shorten cycle time and lower the cost of their work product and other deliverables, while raising the level of service. In the end, your client will reward you by giving you more work across more areas, and your relationship will deepen.”

In order to be effective with a global practice, Steiger explained that lawyers need to recognize a client’s needs and limitations by adopting an individualized approach; lawyers need to know what they themselves don’t know; and lawyers need to know how to get the necessary answers. Lawyers can serve as both quarterbacks for and counselors to their clients, Steiger continued. Having a general industry knowledge as well as understanding specific business risk factors are aspects of the quarterback role, he said.

Among the components of serving as counselor, according to Steiger:

  • Questioning the basis for decisions reached to ensure potential risks are addressed;
  • Appreciating the value in telling a client that what he wants to do doesn’t make sense, and following up with what does make sense;
  • Ensuring that clients know their ultimate goals at the onset;
  • Advising on the necessity of full management and stakeholder buy-in; and
  • Helping a client get out of the local or even national mindset in a global environment.

Careful planning before closing a deal and continued due diligence is critical, Steiger emphasized.  Diligence on location is an aspect of this planning and implementing.

China and India are not the only games in town, said the speaker; virtually every country is a possible target for business.  Some of the factors to be considered in determining where to work, listed Steiger, are prevailing labor costs, culture, business environment, infrastructure, time zone displacement, communications and the ecosystem.

Additional tips and advice that Steiger provided before wrapping up include reviewing vendor competencies, longevity and conflicts; securing the right players for the cross-border team; and understanding that the timing and pace of a negotiation may be beyond one’s control.

The program was sponsored by the General Practice, Solo & Small Firm Division (renamed the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division later in the Annual Meeting). Steiger is author of The Globalized Lawyer: Secrets to Managing Outsourcing, Joint Ventures and Other Cross-Border Transactions.