Five questions to ask regarding whether to staff your first international lawyer

A client asked me recently to help them think through the decision whether or not to base a lawyer outside of the United States. As we talked, we identified five questions that the general counsel should answer

What do clients want in terms of international legal support? Even if they would like a lawyer based in their country, you need to ask why do they want that lawyer there. It could be they feel that response time is too slow, or that the US lawyers do not understand local laws well enough, or that there are language barriers. It may be that they believe their matters get less attention than the matters of clients who can walk into the office of the lawyer.

How much work could the lawyer in the foreign office take on? Assuming the lawyer is full time, it is important that they have more than a full plate of legitimate legal work.

Where do you locate the overseas lawyer? Often, the answer is obvious because you co-locate the lawyer with the executives served (See my post of May 1, 2005: percentage of lawyers at “headquarters” and legal spend; July 31, 2005: example of co-location at GE; Nov. 25, 2005: locations of corporate counsel; May 5, 2006: Convergys and its three lawyer locations; and Nov. 13, 2006: co-location of Carillon lawyers.). For other general counsel who try to figure out where to locate the first international lawyer, it may not be so clear which city would be the best.

How much are you spending on outside counsel to handle the kinds of legal work the international lawyer will handle? To answer this question, you may have to excavate your matter management system records or law firms to break out the work they have done on international matters.

Finally, what kind of lawyer would you need to hire? You might choose to you transfer one of your US lawyers to the foreign assignment despite the onerous costs of ex-pat lawyers (See my post of Oct. 10, 2005: ex pats and relo pay; and April 8, 2007: ex pat benefits.).

These five questions cover important questions you need to ask yourself as you decide whether to create an international legal outpost.

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