General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionMagazine

How to Find a Lawyer in Timbuktu

Finding a lawyer in a foreign country can be a bit more challenging than finding a lawyer in another state. Still, there are many resources available to help you with your search.

• Ask around. Ask your colleagues, clients, and former law professors if they know a lawyer in country X. Even if that particular lawyer cannot help you, he or she likely can recommend someone who can.

• Use legal directories. Martindale-Hubbell has a volume dedicated to foreign law firms. It also has a free website (www.martindalehubbell.com) that provides the same information as the print directory. Either is a good starting point for researching law firms. Note, however, that many excellent firms do not buy listings in Martindale-Hubbell, so you may miss out on a good local firm if you rely exclusively on that vehicle. Moreover, there are no AV or BV ratings for foreign firms, so a listing confers no guarantee of reliability.

• Other directories provide information about firms in almost every part of the world. Sources include the ABA’s Guide to Foreign Law Firms, published by the Section of International Law; International Financial Law Review’s Guide to the World’s 1000 Leading International Law Firms; the Asia/Pacific Legal 500; the European Legal 500 Law Firms in Europe; and Legal Profiles —A Client’s Guide to Australia’s Leading Firms and Their Practices. Despite an overrepresentation of foreign branches of U.S. and English law firms in all except the ABA’s Guide, the guides often can provide information on the comparative abilities and reputations of local firms, including information such as firm size, areas of practice, language capabilities, and so forth.

• Consider law firm networks. There are nearly 200 associations or networks of law firms throughout the world. Several of them are formalized to the extent that they have selection criteria and even employ professional executive or support staff. All of the major ones also have U.S. members; many of the smaller ones are limited to specific areas, such as Europe, Africa, or Latin America. Martindale-Hubbell maintains a Directory of International Law Firm Networks that lists virtually all of the networks, and often the names or locations of the member firms.

• Surf the ’Net. Firms increasingly are using the Internet to market themselves. Many of the directories will also provide the URL for firms’ home pages. You also can perform searches on the web to find law firms with websites. Check out, for example, Internet Legal Resource Guide (www.ilrg.com), a listing of 4,000 law-related websites from 238 nations, islands, and territories.

• Check with the local U.S. embassy or consulate. The commercial section of a U.S. embassy or consulate usually maintains a list of local law firms. It is unlikely that you will pull anything beyond a list from the section, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask about recommendations. If others have had a serious problem with a local lawyer, embassy personnel may well be aware of it. Even if you find counsel through other means, it is still a good idea to contact the embassy or consulate to make sure there are no red flags.

• Contact the American chambers of commerce (or any local branch) or the International Chamber of Commerce (www.iccwbo.org). Branches of both exist in most major commercial centers around the world; staff may be able to provide information about law firms or at least refer you to someone who can. They may also be more forthcoming with opinions about capabilities and reliability than a U.S. diplomat.

• Use your ABA resources. Did you know that a few thousand foreign lawyers are either members or associate members of the ABA? Quite a few of them are active in various sections and divisions. If you need a specialist for an aspect of international law, call the Section of International Law and Practice. The same goes for litigation, intellectual property, real property, insurance, tax, and so on. Chances are someone in the section leadership will be able to give you a name of a lawyer. (The general ABA phone number is 312/988-5000)

• Contact local law societies and bar associations. The law society or bar association in the relevant country will have a directory of law firms and/or lawyers. If all of your usual contacts or resources fail, they may be able to provide a referral list. A number of countries also publish specialist directories, which may help with your research.

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