November 2018 | First Focus

Multicultural intelligence for lawyers

Our increasingly global and multicultural world guarantees that American lawyers will have clients and colleagues of different cultures.

“Understanding how an individual’s culture can influence a case or a negotiation is not only a valuable skill but also an imperative,” writes Terri Morrison, author of “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: Courtrooms to Corporate Counsels.” The book is the 10th in her “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands” intercultural series, and the first one specifically tailored for lawyers.

Perceptions of crimes, trust and juries vary throughout the world, and Morrison offers tips on negotiating strategies, decision-making and verbal and nonverbal behaviors, using personal anecdotes and more than 50 cross-cultural profiles.

YourABA contacted Morrison to find out more:

What’s the best way to build trust with a client from another culture?

If you do a bit of research on the culture, belief systems and priorities of the client, you can make an excellent first impression. For example, learn how to greet them properly. If your client is Japanese, you may want to make sure you don’t use a bone-crushing grip – they generally shake hands with a moderate grip…or, of course, they may bow.  Pronounce their names correctly, and exchange business cards.

Sometimes cultures can collide when physical boundaries are unexpectedly crossed.  Clients may surprise you with a close embrace and a kiss – even at the first meeting. Joe Fioravanti, a prosecutor in Philadelphia, was literally lifted off his feet and kissed right on the mouth by a Russian client. Joe describes the encounter in this video:

If you are in the Middle East, you should be aware of Islamic and Jewish precepts (Sharia law and Rabbinical law). Neither observant Muslims nor Orthodox Jews will shake the hand of the opposite gender. And the U.S. military advised its soldiers to conceal religious symbols while serving in the Arabian Gulf. 

However, you can easily encounter diverse belief systems domestically as well.  Albert S. Dandridge III a partner at Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, and 88th chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, was remonstrated for wearing a religious symbol at an Islamic gathering in an old Philadelphia landmark when he was 12 years old. This encounter is related in Chapter 12, and Al elaborates on it in this video:

Fundamentally, it helps to know whether the culture generally trusts rules, regulations and facts – or whether its citizens build trust through relationships, instincts and feelings.

The United States, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Belgium, Finland and other northern European countries fall into the first category.  Your skills, reputation and price are critical factors in their final decisions.

But rules-based countries are in the minority.

Much of the world, including the Mediterranean, Latin America, most of Asia, much of the Middle East and most of Africa relies to a great extent upon relationships, instincts and personal feelings to build trust. This takes more time but generally yields long-term results. 

Individuals from these cultures may not care whether or not you have reams of facts, a stellar reputation or a good price.  If they don’t like you, or you insult their belief systems – your brilliant argument will fall flat.  However, once you are “part of the family,” these cultures can be exceedingly loyal, and the relationship may carry more weight than the facts.  They may bend the rules for you, and may try to protect you from unpleasant facts – because your relationship must be preserved.

What are some intercultural issues to consider during jury selection?

Juries are a critical component of the legal process in common law countries like the U.S., Australia, the UK, India and most of Canada (the province of Quebec operates under civil law). 

Intercultural issues can seriously impact a juror’s perspective toward a crime - and can make the difference between a vote for or against your client.

Let’s take two examples:

First, many cultures revere their ancestors and have long memories for political conflicts or ethnic abuses.  For example, say you were defending a client of Cuban heritage, wouldn’t you want other Hispanics on the jury?

Maybe not.  It depends upon the jurors’ ethnic background.  Many Latinos in the U.S. feel some animosity toward Cubans and Cuban Americans due to the ease with which for many years they were granted asylum here. 

At the least, knowing some cultural history may be helpful during voir dire if your case involves a defendant of Cuban ethnicity – or a Japanese and a Korean, or a Russian and a Ukrainian, or a Turk and a Cypriot.

And second, some behaviors are legal and unremarkable in a defendant’s country of origin, but are illegal in the U.S, such as bribery, usage of certain drugs, bigamy, discrimination, environmental or OSHA violations or controversial child-rearing techniques.

For instance, global parenting styles very widely, and certain normal practices in one country may look like abandonment in the USA.  Danes often park their infants in strollers outside of restaurants while they go inside and eat, and Japanese allow very young children to run errands and ride the subway alone.

One of your chapters is on the significance of different perceptions of time in various cultures. How does that play into negotiations?

There are wide variations in punctuality, holidays, the way you write the date and personal values toward the past, present and future.  But let’s just examine one other cultural characteristic towards time: long- or short-term orientations.

The U.S. has an extremely short-term orientation.  Attorneys and physicians literally parse out work into 15-minute increments.  A quarterly goal is almost considered long-term. If you present a deeply involved, long-term plan in the U.S., Egypt, Australia, Mexico or the Philippines, the client may consider it onerous and unrealistic. You would have greater success by breaking your project down into manageable sections – like, weekly, monthly and quarterly goals,

However, if you listen to the billionaires in China, they often talk about 100-year plans. And the long-term family-owned business model is extremely important in Japan and South Korea. Sometimes, family owners in Japan ensure that they preserve the company’s future by literally adopting the CEO!  For example, the CEOs of Kikkoman, Suzuki, and Toyota have all been adopted by the companies’ owners.  

East Asian cultures generally have a longer view of time. Since their decision-making process requires building consensus with a group, there is generally no rush to make quick deals. But once decisions have been made by consensus, they are irrevocable. 

You emphasize the importance of being able to read nonverbal communication when working with people from other cultures. What are some of the most important ones?  

Being able to read body language, and moderate your own body language, has been proven to have more impact on intercultural communications than verbal skills.

Of course, body language – levels of eye contact, facial expressions, posture, proximity, gestures – differs among cultures. In Chapter 9, “Lie To Me,” there are seven potential nonverbal cultural disconnects during legal proceedings. 

For example, one body language “tell” that interrogators look for is “contradictory or nonsynchronous gestures and speech.” This is when words and correlating gestures don’t match, or they are not simultaneous.   

However, people with diverse ethnic backgrounds may use gestures that look contradictory or nonsynchronous to an Anglo U.S. attorney, but are normal for them.

For instance, when you disagree with someone from Greece, Egypt or Turkey, you may raise your eyebrows and tilt your head back and upward, as though you are nodding “Yes!” while your lips say “No!”

And if you are from India, Bulgaria or Greece, your head may swing from side to side as you concur.  It looks as though your body is disagreeing with your mouth.

Just these two behaviors could confound U.S. attorneys during cross-examinations, depositions, or voir dire.

My book has a matrix in Chapter 10 to help you ascertain the correct amount of eye contact across cultures, between genders, in public. It can vary from intense in Italy and France, to intermittent in India and England, to minimal in predominantly Islamic or Buddhist countries – like Indonesia and Thailand.

Many of the ways we express sentiments nonverbally can be confusing across cultures. Here are a few gestures for the concept of “yes!” which can be problematic. An “A-Ok” sign is potentially vulgar in Brazil, and “thumbs up!” is rude in the Middle East. 

Becoming aware of cultural variations is not only worth your while – it’s enriching. Angela Benson, director of Membership for the ABA’s Section of International Law, traveled to the United Arab Emirates, and found that not only were the segregated taxis comfortable (the pink ones are for women), but hospitality is a priority in the Middle East.  Complete strangers are often exceedingly kind to travelers in Dubai.  She relates her travel story in Chapter 5, and in this video:

The beauty of all this diversity is that it makes us a richer, smarter and more empathetic nation when we invest just a bit of time in learning about each other. Mahatma Gandhi had to unify a country fragmented by hundreds of languages, belief systems and cultural viewpoints, and he captured this sentiment best: “Civilization is the encouragement of differences.”