Does the practice of law have to have borders? Of course, not, given the new global, multi-disciplinary marketplace in which lawyers are increasingly functioning.

But to build an international legal team means successfully navigating the challenging factors of different time zones, team collaboration, and cultural distinctions that might at first be hard to work with or, at the very least, be misunderstood. Utilizing the latest advances in communication and team technology, the hurdles of global team diversity are giving way to smooth operations management allowing for a broad reach to clients and legal talent.

Natural Problem Solvers

Lawyers, of course, are known to be natural problem solvers. They bring to the table years of education, acquired skillsets, and real-world experience. But now more than ever, the other side of that table—facing clients or team members—means the other side of the ocean. However, it is not just a geographical divide separating the American global law practitioner from their colleagues and clients, but rather ways of doing business, notions of quality control, performance deadlines, and often language. Therefore, before expanding your firm’s team to include overseas staff, it is critical that you ‘do your homework’, in order to learn cultural nuances…lest they become nuisances.

Tearing Down Language Barriers

Although English is commonly referred to as the ‘international language’ or the ‘language of business’, it is essential to remember that English is not the mother tongue for many of the people you will be working with. Even if you do not become fluent in the lingua loci, at least familiarize yourself with some basic level of communication in the foreign language to lessen that particular hiccup in staff cohesiveness. This will facilitate communication with clients and colleagues and show that you are sincerely interested in engaging with their language and culture.

Adopting Common Policies

Cultural differences affect work principles and styles. What may be expected in your American office might be unheard of among foreign staff. Everything from what is considered business dress to what is acceptable as business etiquette can be as different as east to west. By adopting a firm-wide set of guidelines and standard policies—with input from staff on both sides of the ocean—you will be able to set the tone of your cross-cultural firm. Everything from punctuality to shift responsibilities and
management styles should, ideally, be ‘plug and play’ so that staff assigned to any branch globally will fit right into the ‘office culture’ and be able to hit the ground running while there. Your quality control and delivery standards metrics should be universal to achieve unity and synergy across your entire operation. However, the notion of inter-office integration should not be considered as something to get acquainted with for those traveling to the foreign office; rather, it should be so well blended into your firm’s culture that all of your online conferencing sessions and other collaborative endeavors will function seamlessly—as if the other party is in the same room. That being said, there is no ignoring that achieving such symmetry is no easy task given the fundamental cultural distinctions that each of us, based on our various backgrounds, are engrained with and bring to the table.

Accommodating the Time Zone Issue

If there is one big ‘elephant in the room’ when setting up and staffing an overseas office, it is the issue of different time zones. While scheduling conferences for 4:00
PM, close to the end of your day, might work immensely well for the ten people attending in New York, do you want to call that meeting for your overseas staff when it is already 11:00 PM by them? Hardly. Finding a time for firm-wide conferences can eliminate both annoyances and the pressures of late-night meetings for your overseas participants. And, of course, it is critical that when invitations go out for a meeting with the time designated, the notice identifies which time zone the start time refers to.

Connecting and Staying Connected

If there is one lesson learned in the COVID-19 remote work and virtual attendance experience, it is that technology can be your best friend. And your worst enemy. Whether connecting via Zoom®, Microsoft Teams®, or any other online meeting platform, unification of your domestic office and your foreign offices can only work with solid, reliable connectivity. Accordingly, this is one area where you do not want to skimp on set-up or maintenance expenses. Your data line will be your lifeline, and whether it is functioning for a remote deposition, document review, or strategic planning, neither your staff nor your clients will be very forgiving over poor connections, screen freezes, or garbled ‘underwater’ voice communication. In particular, ‘test your tech’ before that important meeting with a client or opposing counsel, lest unwelcome hardware, software, or service provider problem creeps in at the wrong time.

Building a Client-Facing Team

Although ‘client-facing’ generally refers to those team members who directly interact with your clients, the best practice is to consider all of your team members—regardless of where they are located—as ‘client-facing.’ Sounds strange? Not really. From the first impression made by the receptionist who answers the phone in your domestic or foreign office to the paralegal or associate sending a routine communication asking for documents from a client, each person who in any way communicates with a client or colleague is, at that moment, the face of your firm. Lawyers who practice the ‘full-time client-facing’ doctrine will likely see that firm discipline yields exceptional results

Executive Summary

The Issue

How  to build a thriving international legal  team

The Gravamen

Establishing a firm-wide culture that integrates your international team’s disparate and diverse cultures is extremely important to the success of firm globalization.

The Path Forward

Take the time and effort to reduce all divides as much as possible, whether linguistic, cultural or otherwise, to lessen the distinction of an ‘other’ among your team members.


1. Learn:

Study the culture, habits, business etiquette, and expectations of your overseas clients and the overseas staff you will be working with.

2. Adopt:

Think out of the ‘American box’ and adopt firm-wide policies that result in a personal style of your firm that has benefitted from input contributed from input contributed cross-culturally.

3. Sensitivity:

From accommodation for time zone differences to calendaring for local holidays, show sensitivity towards and an understanding of what is expected among your overseas staff.

4. Invest in Tech:

Find out what the real needs are in both your domestic office and foreign office for operating seamlessly without unwanted technical glitches getting in the way of your global collaboration efforts.

Further Reading

  1. the-pressures-of-delivering-seamless-service/

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