What's it like to work with international clients?
Ah, the buzz of a top City law firm job: fast-paced work, great variety in your caseload and a top salary… and the international dimension is another juicy cherry on top! But what’s it really like to work with international clients? Anna Hirst is half way into her training contract as a trainee solicitor with RPC. She lets us in on what it’s like to tackle cases on behalf of clients across the globe on a day-to-day basis…
Life as an international firm solicitor
At RPC the majority of our clients are national and international commercial organisations, so as a trainee at the firm I have had considerable exposure to work with international clients in both my Real Estate and Insurance seats. The forms of communication are many and varied, which means adapting quickly to cross-jurisdictional issues and working with lawyers from across the firm. The RPC offices in Hong Kong and Singapore also provide ample opportunity to get involved in international client cases.
I have had the most direct contact with clients from the United States where you quickly learn to deal with emails in the early hours of the morning owing to time zone differences! Emails themselves can take some getting used to: I have found US clients’ written style to be very friendly and direct, and communications can vary extensively in terms of their formality. It takes some time to adapt to this style of correspondence.. For a more personal touch, we sometimes use software called 'Link' at RPC (similar to Skype), which allows us to have face-to-face communications across our offices as well as with clients anywhere in the world.
In terms of specific work I have carried out so far, I have been involved in obtaining depositions from UK witnesses for use in a US trial during my Insurance seat (depositions are the legal process by which out-of-court witness evidence is obtained in advance of trial). I carried out an extensive comparison of the varying approaches to obtaining witness evidence in the two jurisdictions.
I also recently dealt with a request from an overseas client wishing to find out information on time limits for issuing proceedings within Italy: I emailed an Italian-qualified partner based in our Hong Kong office, who quickly came back to me with an answer. It is exciting to see so many international boundaries crossed within such a short space of time.
Key differences between UK and international firms
When dealing with international clients, one has to bear in mind that legal processes and our market norms have to be explained in much greater detail. For instance, in my Real Estate seat I have had to explain to a number of clients that the exclusion of the right to renew a business tenancy, as contained in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, is common practice in UK property transactions; some clients are a little surprised by the automatic right of renewal in this country.
It can be quite challenging at times to gauge what the client or foreign lawyer will or will not already have knowledge of. It is essential that you give them sufficient level of detail to explain how the law operates in England and Wales.
Problem-solving in international firms
The language barrier is another challenge you come up against with some international cases. There are a many lawyers at RPC who are fluent in other languages as well those who have qualified in foreign jurisdictions. It is up to you to use your initiative and carry out investigatory work to find the people within the firm with the relevant expertise to be able to help you with your case. Language skills are highly valued and sought after in the legal profession.
In addition, RPC is a member of Terralex, which is a network of international law firms and a great source of overseas work. The network offers the potential to secure instructions and also enables us to find lawyers in other jurisdictions that can quickly offer quality legal assistance for our clients.
International client work offers a different dimension to your caseload as a trainee. There will be a lot of cross-jurisdictional situations you will not have covered during your law degree, GDL and LPC, so there’s a lot to learn in a short space of time; however if you’re inquisitive and pragmatic there is a lot to enjoy about this part of the job.
You can check out RPC’s website for more information on graduate roles.