There was a time when law students would graduate and go and work in their local community. In this respect, lawyers were no different to community doctors in that they served the people around them, and most legal careers reflected this. However, these days, the world has opened up. Local businesses no longer trade with people in the same area but sell goods and services across the globe. Because of this, European and international treaties and laws have huge implications for even small community businesses and organisations. Even in criminal law, things have changed as people move from country to country as border controls relax. For this reason, today’s lawyers can no longer be seen as a local service, and they need to be trained for the global economy.
Laws vary from country to country, but many international laws are far reaching, especially when it comes to economics. These international economic laws can affect the lives of all sorts of people. Furthermore, these laws are complex, so global lawyers are needed to represent communities affected by a range of global issues and laws. In addition, technology has now meant that even a small local business may just as likely to be trading in territories on the other side of the globe as they are in the local area, and for this they need representation to ensure they are protected from a whole gamut of legal issues that may arise.
One of the biggest issues that the next generation of lawyers need to get to grips with is international trade and the many complex laws that govern it. Global finance brings with it many difficulties for the modern business, many of which will require legal advice to negotiate the complexities of trading overseas. Even for small online retailers selling through internet third parties, a need to understand intellectual property rights, payment of cross border taxes and the different laws governing imports and exports in overseas territories is becoming ever more important.
Global banking and finance regulations can impact heavily on businesses, even the small scale company. For a small trader, transferring money and products overseas is not always simple. While international tax treaties exist, different countries have different approaches to their adherence. Some have automatic tax withholding policies, which means businesses based outside their borders may lose as much as 30% before any money is transferred to their account. For many of these companies, sorting out a local tax number is not possible without legal help, which is where the global lawyer comes in. In addition, sending payments from accounts across borders is often governed by a host of tax laws and treaties, which the global lawyer needs to understand. The same is true for making investments overseas. Transferring money across borders involves negotiating a whole host of foreign tax laws, making the need for globally aware legal advocates as an important part of the investment and money transfer process.
Training Ultimate Lawyers for a global future
To be able to provide legal advice in the global economy, new lawyers need to have global legal literacy. Literacy in the global context isn’t just about being aware of the relevant legal practices and laws overseas. Of course, this is important, but no lawyer can be fully aware of every law that exists in the world. However, there are other aspects of legal literacy that a global lawyer does need in order to successfully work in the global economy.
Language and cultural understanding are two aspects to global legal literacy that is rarely taught in law schools. This is not about becoming bilingual or understanding the cultural practices of different countries, but more about understanding that English, while universal, is not everybody’s first language. This means that the global lawyer needs to ensure they can communicate effectively, which may involve in simplifying many legal terms and move away from the complex legalese that dominates the profession. In addition, the role of the lawyer can vary from culture to culture and an understanding as to the role in other countries will help the global lawyer understand the characteristics of foreign legal systems, enabling them to better advise their clients.
Traditionally, global legal literacy has been learned on the job. While this has worked to an extent, so far, the need for more globally aware lawyers is only going to increase. For this reason, law schools need to improve their training in global law and understanding. More emphasis in teaching law in a global context is certainly needed, as is ensuring law graduates have exposure to multinational colleagues. In addition, graduate students can help improve their global legal literacy by taking work experience placements in overseas law offices rather than going the traditional route and working in domestic surroundings.