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Changing world inspires law school program

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The recently announced dual degree J.D./LL.B. program by the Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Jindal Global Law School in India is still in the planning stages, but to many legal professors and professionals, the program promises to be a boon for students interested in practicing international law. Although several programs exist where students can study abroad for a finite period while pursuing their Juris Doctor, the Maurer-Jindal program will be the first of its kind in India.

The impetus for the program was globalization, as more and more U.S. companies establish global outposts and more and more foreign companies open offices in the U.S. Dr. C. Raj Kumar, vice chancellor of Jindal, explained the reasoning behind going beyond the study abroad programs offered by many law schools.

“U.S. corporations are having a huge presence in India and other countries, so training and establishing an understanding of a single jurisdiction alone may not be sufficient for equipping the future generation of lawyers,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not possible to have the same level of training in every jurisdiction, but a certain degree of knowledge and perspectives is essential, and that’s precisely what this does.”

Legal frontier

Lawyers practicing international law face challenges as varied as the legal systems found across the globe. One of the biggest challenges is the speed with which international law has become so integral to businesses and the people affiliated with them. In the past 30 years, international law has morphed into an entity that encompasses more than just mergers and acquisitions.

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“It has so many influences on the legal profession and legal practice and how many ways it influences and shapes society generally,” said Maurer School of Law professor Carole Silver. “How many linkages are there between businesses that might be clients of lawyers and business activities, sales forces, marketing and communication overseas with regard to individuals? How much more mobile are individuals today and how does that implicate the need for law and lawyering? Mobility means travel, it means living overseas, it means immigrating, it means coming to Indiana and other places for study that may or may not turn into long-term stays in the United States. It has all kinds of implications.”

Politics also influence the spike in international law, as acts that have been on the books for years suddenly have gained importance to the role the U.S. plays in international trade. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, a U.S. law against bribery of foreign public officials to obtain or retain a business advantage, was passed in 1977. In as recently as 2000, there was just one enforcement action that resulted in a $300,000 fine. By 2010, however, dozens of FCPA enforcement actions resulted in more than $1 billion in fines.

trent sandifur Sandifur

“Obviously the more globalization there is, the more potential there is for international bribery,” said Trent Sandifur, a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, whose practice is built on FCPA. “It’s become more of an enforcement priority largely because the department of justice and (the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission) view it as a way to help developing countries … come out of a culture where bribery is much more accepted and a tolerated way of doing business. My job is to help companies set up programs to help employees and distributors and sales agents in remote areas of the world put procedures in place to prevent it.”

As such, the approach to practicing international law can vary. There are those like Sandifur who work from the U.S. with people overseas, and people who work with corporations that have branches in the U.S. or those traded on a U.S. exchange.

“That could be a U.S. client that wants to do a joint venture in China or Vietnam or a Vietnamese client that wants to invest in the United States with site selection or something like that,” said Pete Morse, co-chair of the global services practice group at Barnes & Thornburg. “Both are very different disciplines.”

pete morse Morse

Many large U.S. firms have opened overseas offices in jurisdictions where they have sufficient clientele, yet they, as well as firms without foreign offices, rely on a network of lawyers who offer services to those from outside their jurisdiction.

“When we’re working in a country where we don’t have an office, we work with an affiliation called Lex Mundi, and it has prescreened law firms for us that meet certain quality standards,” said Jackie Simmons, partner and co-leader of the international law practice at Faegre Baker Daniels. “All of the Lex Mundi affiliated law firms have agreed to work together as seamlessly as possible. That’s one way to get to know lawyers in other jurisdictions pretty well.”

International foundation

For those who are practicing international law now, those who look to practice it in the future, and those charged with teaching it, its foundation lies in cultural understanding. Approaching legal situations with as much knowledge about a particular foreign culture as possible gives attorneys in this field an edge.

“Respect the other party’s culture as well as their laws,” Simmons said. “You need to understand something about their culture. When I first started negotiating in China in 1995, and someone would tell me something would be very, very difficult, to an American, that’s just a challenge. To a Chinese person that means there’s no way the government is going to approve that. But they culturally cannot say there’s no way, so they will say it in a way that to them means no. You have to learn those cultural nuances.”

jackie simmons Simmons

The IU-Jindal dual degree program is a step toward gaining cultural understanding from the beginning. Similar programs with countries other than India only can facilitate greater familiarity with foreign legal systems and build cultural sensitivity and understanding. A student exchange program between IU and Jindal University already exists, and students interested in establishing an international law practice are encouraged to study a foreign language to improve communication, complete a summer program at an overseas firm, or work in a firm where international law is a specialty.

“Some of the best, most qualified candidates are those who make the ultimate investment and go work overseas for a period of time,” Morse said. “If someone was to say, ‘After law school I’m going to go to Hong Kong, Delhi, London or Munich and I’m going to work as a solicitor in one of these firms,’ that is a lot more attractive because you’re going to learn the language, you’re going to learn the culture. It’s really just putting yourself in the minds of the client and learning what the average bear doesn’t know.”•

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