Exchange programs with law schools in China are providing valuable experience to students who want to build careers in international or corporate law, attorneys say.
China is similar to other countries in that its business is relationship based, said Angella Castille, partner at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP in Indianapolis. Attorneys who know the legal and regulatory system along with the social mores do well because people, in general, like doing business with others who understand them.
FaegreBD, which opened its first office in China in 1998, has offices in Beijing and Shanghai. One of the attorneys who played a key role in opening the China locations had a degree from a Chinese university and a J.D. from a U.S. university.
Having a dual degree gives lawyers looking for jobs in international law an advantage, Castille said. The market is very competitive, and candidates who have the experience of studying and working in China plus possess the ability to speak Mandarin or Cantonese really stand out.
More and more attorneys will need to have at least some knowledge of international law and other countries given the growth of the global marketplace. Indiana alone exports $5 billion in agricultural products each year. In addition, a recent Indiana Lawyer survey done in partnership with Benesch found that 28 percent of corporate counsel respondents said their companies intend to do business in China in the next three years.
Looking 10 years into the future and at the continued trend toward globalization, attorney Andi Metzel said transactional or corporate lawyers who ignore the global platform are not going to be doing themselves any favors.
The law school programs allow students to become engaged and compete in an increasingly tight legal market, said Metzel, partner with the Indianapolis office of Benesch. Participants can learn about the complex regulatory and business environment of China as well as about its culture and customs.
If the students are engaged in the experience, Metzel said, and they find out they have an interest and passion for transactional law, the opportunities for them are endless.
Like Castille, she pointed out the necessity of lawyers being bilingual or even trilingual. Knowing the language enables the attorney to deal directly with the other parties and prevents something from getting lost in translation.
Mark Shope, an associate at FaegreBD, holds a law degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and an LLM from National Taiwan University College of Law. Although he lived and worked in Shanghai before attending law school, he participated in the IU McKinney’s exchange program which, he said, added to the skills he now uses in his practice.
Law schools may think the way to meet this demand will be to grow and expand their exchange programs, but Shope said the schools should first push international applications of the law to the forefront of the curriculum. He pointed to his own experience in tax class where he did not learn until later the implications that tax considerations have on global operations.
While acknowledging practicing international law is hard work, Shope said it is also very rewarding.
“I love it,” he said. “I love my practice.”•