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International Attorneys’ Importance as a Bridge Between Cultures in a Time of Increased Tensions

Firas Aljijakli


  • Practicing law across borders is a type of cultural diplomacy.
  • International attorneys who are attuned to the cultural differences within a country and between nations are invaluable.
  • The legal community should invest in international attorneys’ cross-border ambitions and careers.
International Attorneys’ Importance as a Bridge Between Cultures in a Time of Increased Tensions

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Tensions have existed since the beginning of recorded history. The idea of a conflict-free world is not something we have yet witnessed. And tensions are rising around the world. However, numerous studies have examined what has appeared to help communities build bridges in times of conflict. For instance, Ashutosh Varshney put forth two potential explanations in his article, “Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond.”

First, Varshney asserts that interethnic and intraethnic networks of civic engagement “build bridges and manage tensions, interethnic networks are agents of peace” if they are not organized only along interethnic lines and interconnections. Meaning that, if civic groups are not only organized by ethnic identity, then civic groups offer peace-building opportunities.

Second, Varshney further proposes that robust forms of civic networks promote peace. Varshney offers that civic networks can be thought of as two groups: associational forms of engagement and everyday forms of engagement. Examples of associational forms of engagement would include the Louisville Bar Association or the International Bar Association. It makes sense in a local and national context that such associations would foster peace because associational conferences and events often bring us together to discuss various topics to understand different perspectives and learn from one another. And if we replace the context of law with the engineering industry, the result would be the same.

Associational membership within industries brings people together for a common goal of learning more about their shared trade. At the same time, members also learn from one another about different cultures and norms of other attendees. Examples of everyday forms of engagement would be a Cuban attorney licensed in Idaho representing a small business in a dispute, whose owner might not have met a Cuban before, or a German engineer who is working with American engineers in Texas in a shared short-term project. Similarly, the shared short-term project is bringing the German professional and American professional together for a common goal.

Now going back to the legal context, when we think of an international attorney, we tend to think of a prosecutor of war crimes or an attorney making big money at a big firm or corporation. But it is much more than that. When an attorney is practicing across borders, not only is the attorney promoting their client’s cause, but the attorney is also performing a type of cultural diplomacy. When a business wants to establish itself in a new country, it needs an international attorney to know how to get the proper license, comply with bar association rules and codes of conduct, comply with the tax regulatory scheme, and advise on ownership regulations, among other tasks an international business attorney must attend to ensuring a business properly establishes itself in the new country. The prosecutor of war crimes must also be conscious of the country’s cultural differences. They must understand the history of the country at issue, as it undoubtedly would provide information that may give context to the atrocities that are unfolding that would give that prosecutor a more comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground.

Much as Varshney offers in his piece about everyday engagement, a person, here an attorney, is practicing across borders, sharing their culture, and learning about other cultures when practicing in a different country. This is why an international attorney who is attuned to the cultural differences within a country and between nations is invaluable. An international attorney has a long and steady educational and artistic path. Throughout their journey in the legal profession and across country borders, they gain experience and knowledge as they encounter intercultural legal dilemmas and find solutions. The simple international conflict only involves two countries. But conflicts often implicate more than one country, especially when dealing with a multinational corporation in a dispute with another multinational corporation or a nation funding another country’s war with a different government or that is sabotaging peace negotiations. This creates an interconnected conflict of entangled interests because each party has other goals.

In civil contexts, this sometimes leads to noncompliance or disputes with the terms of joint investment contracts between companies. Here, the role of the international attorney is to advise and represent companies when more than one country applies a law that may implicate cross-border interests and contracts, such as multinational companies and subsidiaries in various countries and agreements governed by different rules. To resolve these civil disputes, a lawyer specialized in international business cases is required, and having an attorney who understands the context and nuances of the country at issue undoubtedly helps.

In human rights contexts, this sometimes leads to violations of international law. Understanding the reason behind the conflict and the circumstances and history of the communities serves the international attorney and justice since it gives context to what a potential solution could look like in that community that would not just be a temporary band-aid but a long-term solution that fully acknowledges and addresses the traumas of the entities, societies and individuals in a dispute.

In both contexts, the goal of hiring an international attorney is to serve justice, whether justice is to resolve international disputes between entities, communities or individuals. Justice is the goal. Justice is attained by uncovering the truth. Justice is served by seeking the truth in an adversarial system by having each party’s attorney try to win cases in all possible legal and ethical ways and to support the claims entrusted to him or her with all the legal knowledge he or she has and can reasonably acquire to ethically serve the client.

Justice is better served when the attorney handling international disputes, civil or criminal, understands, acknowledges and addresses the complexities in communities that create nuanced hurdles in that community. The attorney dealing with such issues is better able to offer a comprehensive solution for their client than one who is just looking at the law and the issues without the full community picture. Having the legal experience, facts and factual context not only ensures legal compliance since the international attorney will be more able to advise what legal issues may arise but also means that the international attorney who is attuned to the client’s needs and the client’s legal and cultural climate means that the attorney will keep up with the client’s changing facts on the ground and be better able to ensure the client’s continued compliance.

An international attorney is more effective and efficient in providing solutions when the international attorney is attuned to the legal circumstances and cultural realities of the client’s environment. The legal framework is the toolbox. The factual knowledge is the realities of the structure being built or fixed. The more knowledge one has of the structure to be built or fixed, the more intact the structure will be. The international attorney who knows there is a weak column in the structure knows that the column either needs reinforcement or alternatively that the weak column is beyond repair and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. The international attorney who is aware of the nature of the weakness is better able to advise which solution is better in that specific context. Most attorneys are trained to think that the answer to most questions is “it depends.” And here, it depends on the factual context. Depending on the client to inform the international attorney of all the factual circumstances on the ground might not be ideal since the client might not know which facts are relevant to assessing which solution is more appropriate given the circumstances.

For these reasons, it is more important now than ever that the legal community invest in international attorneys’ cross-border ambitions and careers. Doing so will allow for more effective solutions and for more bridges to be built to get to those solutions.