Posted September 2, 2004
Job Prospects Strong for International
The increasing tendency of foreign companies to choose American law
as the one governing the terms of their international deals means opportunities
are expanding for law students interested in careers in international
business transactions, according to Christopher Bernard ’96,
a lawyer with Allen Overy’s London office who was on-Grounds
August 31 on a recruiting visit. Bernard, a Dillard Scholar at Virginia,
spoke on life in an overseas office and trends in cross-border business
law at the invitation of the Law & Business Society.
International work is made easier for American lawyers by the fact
that English is the language of international business and British
and American law—New York or Delaware law, in particular—are
the preferred governing laws for deals.
In later remarks on trends, he said standardization and globalization
pressures give companies additional incentives to write their prospectuses
He strongly urged those interested in international careers to become
competent in at least one foreign language. He described feeling awkward
at not being able to follow when clients discussed deals in their native
language and another sort of awkwardness when they discussed it instead
in English because only he could not participate in their language.
Bernard said it is important to be sensitive to cultural difference
and learn the styles of doing business that different countries have.
In Asia, he said, deals are relationship-based and it is important
not to stand out. German dealmaking tends to be very detail-oriented
and the French tend to more emotional in negotiations. These were all
generalizations, he cautioned.
Working outside the United State is very different from traveling
abroad, Bernard warned, and life as an expatriate is not as glamorous
as it may sound.
Business travel is also not all it’s made out to be, he said.
Meetings with clients are often held at airports and that could be
as much as you see of the city. After an arduous day meeting at the
airport in Rome, he recounted, the client ended the day at 11 p.m.
and took him to McDonalds for dinner, thinking it was what Americans
Furthermore, foreign offices are very expensive for American firms
to maintain, so they are under heavy pressure to be profitable and
to do it with fewer staff and smaller resources. “Living abroad
is not cushy. Foreign branch offices tend to work even harder than
Life abroad “can be very isolating,” Bernard addded. “You’re
a long way from your family and your friends, there’s no coverage
of baseball.” Expatriates tend to hang out together, he said,
and talk about the cultural differences that they can get used to.
Turning to trends, Bernard said globalization continues to expand
the number of cross-border transactions and it is snowballing.
The two main trends in overseas business practice are the growing
international standardization of accounting and disclosure rules and,
secondly, the lawyer’s emerging role as a gatekeeper between
corporations and the public, he said.
European convergence on standards has abetted the continent’s
adoption of the euro, which Bernard called both a “huge step
forward” and a “qualified success,” an allusion to
the economic troubles of Germany and France that have caused them to
defy euro monetary rules.
Bernard’s second example of standardization was Basel II, a
new round of banking standards meant to promote stability, which created
capital adequacy standards that require banks to maintain certain minimum
amounts of cash to cover their credit risks. Three levels of standards
linked to bank size are proposed and they will apply to all banks including
those in the United States.
International accounting and disclosure standard have been in the
works, but their development has accelerated after the corporate scandals
of Enron, WorldCom, Parmalat and Vivendi. “There’s a real
push,” he said. “It’s a big achievement to have the
European Union come together this way.” The next stage will be
to get common standards on both sides of the Atlantic, he predicted. “It’s
a product of globalization and it also encourages it.”
He described the standards as “moving to the kind of disclosure
America already does.”
A second development is the new role lawyers are being asked to play
as gatekeepers who protect investors and the public by being advocates
for ethical behavior by the corporations they represent. The shift
traces to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, meant to remedy some of the sins
of Enron. Bernard called the legislation ”poorly drafted,” “overbroad,” “a
kneejerk reaction,” and full of ambiguities. Because the United
States remains the “world’s deepest capital market” and
others want access to it, the new rules are having an effect internationally.
They are changing the nature of lawyer-client privilege. New “up
the ladder” rules require lawyers to report suspected wrongdoing
higher and higher through the ranks of corporate leadership until it
is addressed. Should a lawyer not be satisfied with the response, another
proposal called the “noisy withdrawal” rule would oblige
him or her to blow the whistle on his client. That rule is controversial
and “it’s neither passed nor withdrawn” from consideration,
Bernard said. The United Kingdom has recently enacted laws requiring
lawyers to report suspected money laundering too, he said.
International job opportunities for American business lawyers are
most ripe in London, Hong Kong, and Frankfurt, he said, particularly
in securities and mergers and acquistions work. Also on the recruiting
visit for Allen Overly was Virginia Law alumna Stephanie Magnell ’03,
who answered students’ questions on living abroad after the talk
Reported by M. Marshall