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Professional Liability and International Lawyering: An Overview

Submitted by Ben Lambert on Tue, 04-23-2013
Lambert, J. Benjamin
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Defense Counsel Journal
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United States
INTERNATIONAL LAW is rapidly developing as an independent field in practically every country as the isolated legal markets of generations past give way to a global market. In such a climate, issues raised by international law are intertwined with every-day domestic practice, both in the United States and abroad. Most practitioners, no matter how specialized their practice area and market, encounter international legal issues, whether by questions raised by clients with international interests or by required compliance with practice-relevant international agreements or standards.
United States law schools now often require students to take at least one international course, and most have study abroad programs, certificate programs or international law journals. As a result, new attorneys have greater exposure to international legal issues before entering practice. Despite these trends, questions concerning the professional liability exposure of U.S. lawyers engaged in international practice continue to be ignored both in the classroom and in the pages of law reviews.
Determining when a U.S. lawyer handling international issues has taken action that may give rise to professional liability exposure requires a thorough determination of the laws of relevant jurisdictions. Further complicating matters, "international lawyers" may be divided into three categories (which sometimes overlap), each facing different challenges: (i) attorneys who work abroad; (ii) those who work domestically servicing international clients; and (iii) domestic attorneys who outsource legal work to foreign legal service providers. This article considers the professional liability challenges faced by United States lawyers in each of these categories, addressing the possible bases for professional liability, the impact of foreign law differences and certain limited ways to reduce the cost of potential liability.
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