Working It Across the Globe: Legal Staff Opportunities in the Field of International Business Law
by Ursula Furi-Perry
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The job often entails helping American corporations establish and conduct business in other countries. "I communicate with each country's equivalent of the Secretary of State, file initial documents, and then help the companies remain in good standing," says William Gamble, former paralegal and currently customer service specialist at CT International. "I also retrieve documents like financial statements, interact daily with our foreign correspondents, and conduct searches that are equivalent to UCC searches." Naturally, good communication skills and a client-oriented attitude are a must in this field.
Other paralegals work on the other end of the spectrum: helping foreign companies do business in the U.S. "I work for the [American] subsidiary of a British parent company," says Nancy Roney, legal assistant at BBA US Holdings. "We handle mergers and acquisitions, due diligence, and patents and trademarks. I often gather information from different countries and many different legal areas and answer clients' questions when they seek historical or corporate information." International business paralegals may deal with just about anyone: company officers, outside consultants, attorneys, and members of foreign subsidiaries, just to name a few.
Whether it's forming foreign counterparts to a U.S.-based corporation or helping a company from abroad settle into American business, international business paralegals and legal assistants handle a wide variety of tasks. In fact, the field usually encompasses a great number of legal specialties. "I often come across corporate law, intellectual property, real estate, regulatory laws, and even litigation," Ms. Roney said. In addition, international business paralegals may work with matters of labor law, immigration law, and Internet commerce. "I really like the fact that the tasks are varied," said Ms. Roney. "The diversity is one of the job's rewards," agreed Mr. Gamble. "Many different clients call up with various requests."
At times, however, that diversity may be one of the most challenging aspects of the job. "You have to work your way through many different countries' laws," Mr. Gamble explained. "There are often cultural differences and language barriers (you have to deal with)." It helps when international business paralegals and legal assistants are organized and able to handle the many different responsibilities that come up. "My paralegal background really helped me, because I was able to multi-task and keep an eye on detail so that I didn't let things slip," Mr. Gamble explained. "(Legal assistants) may not have to know every country's laws, but they have to know where to find the law," added Ms. Roney, attesting to the importance of solid research skills in the field.
Communication methods vary from written to spoken word, but an increasingly important part of the profession is more high-tech: Internet commerce is booming across nations, and legal providers are taking note. "We offer area-specific law portals to law firms with updated international and e-commerce laws and regulations around the world," said Ana Pann, CEO of Internet Business Law Services. "The opportunities in international business, especially online opportunities, are increasingly prevalent."
And the international business law field is sure to keep growing. "Globalization (likely) won't show any signs of a slow-down," Mr. Gamble says. "We've already experienced a 33% growth over each of the last four quarters." And once a paralegal is hired, there is plenty of opportunity for personal professional improvement. "There is room for growth within the company," said Ms. Roney, "and legal assistants can often move into different areas."