June 01, 2016

Global Litigator: Far from Home

A trial in American Somoa offers unusual challenges that start with what to wear.

Dean Hansell

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Trying cases in foreign jurisdictions presents unique challenges. Beyond learning local procedures and practices, we must orient ourselves to cultural norms and traditions, expected methods for presenting evidence, and what constitutes acceptable and effective argument. Even then, the magnitude of some practical challenges can still be surprising—as I recently found trying a case truly far from home.

Readying myself for trial in American Samoa, I developed enhanced respect for our astronauts preparing for their inaugural trip to the Space Station, where the nearest hardware store is 31,000 miles away. Many of the law office conveniences we take for granted were not to be found. Forget about newer technologies such as an Elmo; the availability of simple supplies like exhibit tabs, poster paper, an easel, and sticky notes could not be assumed. While my local counsel was helpful in identifying what resources I could expect to find locally and what I would need to bring with me from Los Angeles, it was sobering to consider that the closest legal supply store was 2,000 miles away in Auckland, New Zealand.

The local transportation was equally unreliable. The first morning before our preliminary hearing, my rental car had not one, but two flat tires. “I remember that car,” said my local counsel sympathetically. “It did the same thing to me. In fact, I think it was the same two front tires.” With that, we moved my boxes to the back of his old pickup truck and headed off to court.

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