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by Vault Law Editors | September 06, 2023


There is not truly one area of practice that would be encapsulated by the term “international law.” American lawyers who practice internationally can practice in myriad and varied areas. International trade lawyers help facilitate the movement of goods across borders and import-export laws, international treaties, and the litigation before the International Court of Trade. Project finance lawyers often focus on funding projects in one or more international markets, including Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Oil and gas attorneys are often involved in deals with or in oil-producing countries. Litigators who want to practice international law can focus on the growing area of international arbitration. An M&A attorney may have significant expertise in international transactions, an IP attorney may deal with protecting intellectual property assets in other territories, a bankruptcy attorney may deal with the various national laws that touch on the insolvency of a multinational corporation. What ties these disparate areas together is that they are often practices in the largest international firms, involve lawyers of various nationalities, and attract lawyers who like to travel and have expertise in geographic regions or languages. Some firms also have practices focused on specific regions outside of the U.S. Those following a nonprofit path may find legal positions with organizations that address global issues.

In our guide, Practice Perspectives: Vault’s Guide to Legal Practice Areas, attorneys from law firms with top-ranked International practices share insights about their practice, including how to prepare for a job in this practice area and how to continually develop the cultural intelligence needed to effectively work cross-culturally and in multiple, simultaneous jurisdictions. Keep reading for their insights!

What training, classes, experience, or skills development would you recommend to someone who wishes to enter your practice area?

David Flechner, Partner—Allen & Overy
On-the-job learning provides the best classroom training. Figuring out how different parties to a transaction fit into the overall project requires experience. There are plenty of treatises and legal education resources (webinars, etc.) for learning the jargon of a capital markets practice. Taking Securities Regulation in law school can be a helpful primer but isn’t a requirement.

Because markets are constantly changing and evolving, a transactional practice of any kind—restructuring, bankruptcy, M&A, private equity funds, etc.—can all be very helpful for developing a practice in the international capital markets.

I think people with securities litigation experience can contribute more to a capital markets practice than most people think, as a lot of the basis for responding to class action litigation or an investor complaint requires a deep understanding of the underlying securities transaction—how and through what documentation a shareholder bought its shares, how a debt fund bought bonds from private or public markets, etc., and understanding the related risks involved is essential.

Neil Barlow, Partner—Clifford Chance USTake accounting classes. Many accounting terms are used in M&A agreements, and we team up with accounting firms all the time. If you don’t understand the points but you’re negotiating with lawyers that do, you’ll be lost.

A critical skill to develop is brevity. If the client can’t read it on their phone on the subway, don’t send the email. Be articulate but cut straight to the point. Develop this and it will become one of your greatest strengths in this profession.

Clara Pang, Partner—Linklaters: In line with that, it is important to have familiarity with the jargon that you will start to have to work with in this practice area...getting familiar with the types of phrases and words that people use in reference to corporate entities and different types of transactions is also very helpful.

How can lawyers develop greater cultural intelligence in dealing with international transactions and matters?

David Flechner: Lawyers working in the capital markets need to be following macroeconomic trends in order to be valuable contributors to their deal teams. Reading the economic and financial sections of newspapers every day—including for example The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, or The Economist—goes a long way toward improving general cultural intelligence. Reading the international section also gives a sense of global trends and regional developments that could have a direct impact on international capital markets work. As a concrete example, when we review securities offering documents, we always need to update the risk factor and other contextual disclosures, and our lawyers need daily updates on regions, industries, and companies in order to have the most up-to-date information available. I find that the best lawyers have established a great system for filtering and synthesizing media information from apps and other outlets—beware of information overload!

Neil Barlow: To work at a global firm, you need to have a global mindset. It’s essential to understand other cultures, traditions, and politics so you can appreciate certain sensitivities in cross-border work. At a firm like ours, people are from around the world—I’m from Europe and Carla is from Latin America, for example—and living in different countries has helped us develop that mindset. Take advantage of any opportunities to work abroad and take the time to learn how local laws apply in different countries. We recently advised on a transaction that had a large Indian component, so we worked with local counsel in India. I encouraged our associates to join calls with our client and local counsel to better understand the Indian issues. While we have local counsel to help with local laws, we still deliver one team and one service to the client. Ultimately, we are responsible.

Clara Pang: Law firms that are helping clients work in different jurisdictions and in different environments need to ensure their lawyers have the tools and resources they need to be sensitive to cultural differences. Lawyers should educate themselves on and recognize the impact of understanding cross-cultural differences in being an effective adviser on cross-border transactions.