Tomorrow is our permanent address.—Marshall McLuhan
The world just got smaller. And its boundaries a little fuzzier. International affairs, at least the kind confronted by solos and small firm lawyers, are no longer exotic and unusual.
At Starbucks, two teenage girls notice my netbook, asking me where I bought it and what I paid for it. “Los Angeles, $350,” I tell them, forgetting to convert U.S. dollars into the local currency. The girls know immediately what the exchange rate is, commenting that stuff like this is so much cheaper north of the border before returning to their discussion about what they were going to do in San Antonio. This conversation didn’t take place in the United States; it took place in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, the soul of Mexico. I immediately wondered if two lawyers, much less two teenage girls, at a Starbucks in Omaha would know how many Mexican pesos their greenbacks would buy.
Amid programs to restrict immigration into the United States and legislation to create an English-only country where even thinking about Sharia (Islamic law) could lead to stoning (all right, I made up the part about stoning, but there were criminal penalties attached), the number of foreign-born people living in the United States approaches levels not seen since the nineteenth century. The foreign-born population of the United States outnumbers the entire population of Canada. One out of every four Californians was born abroad. In Miami, more people were born abroad than on American shores.
The GPSolo Division is no different. Laura V. Farber, chair-elect of the GPSolo Division, was born in Argentina, and Benes Z. Aldana, the Division’s vice chair, was born in the Philippines. Four authors in this issue are foreign born: Mirriam Seddiq in Afghanistan, Ignacio Pinto-Leon in Mexico, Jeremy D. Morley in England, and Ekaterina Schoenefeld in Russia. Even more had significant foreign experiences ranging from living and working in France; studying at The Hague, England, Germany, and the Czech Republic; teaching at law schools in Russia and Poland; and growing up in Japan. One even submitted her article while in Istanbul. All of this has to set some kind of record. And ever since 1997, the editor-in-chief of this magazine—that’s me—has lived in Mexico. Did I mention that I’m a Mexican citizen?
We’re no longer a world where entire quaint lifetimes are spent within a 20-mile radius of a person’s birthplace. Even lawyers practicing in those rural states boasting the highest percentage of native-born people find their practices extending beyond the borders of this country. Time-share hawkers in Puerto Vallarta seduce tourists from the Dakotas; an Iowa packing plant lands in hot water after hiring illegal workers, most of whom were from Guatemala; the high school exchange student from Indiana decides to remain in Peru; and the vacationer from Vermont breaks her back while zip-lining in Belize. Maybe your client has moved to the Bahamas to avoid paternity tests, like Anna Nicole Smith and Howard K. Stern. And what about that father in a small California town who now wants to prevent the wife he met while stationed in Japan from taking their child back to her homeland for a visit with the grandparents? Or that small fishing-lure company that has a dispute with one of its suppliers in ? It’s more than simply talking to that tech support person based in India. Most solos and small firm lawyers hardly ever find themselves representing entire countries, as a white-shoe firm founded in 1901 and boasting 37 offices in 25 countries might, but solos and small firm lawyers increasingly find their practices and clients spread across the planet.
More Americans than ever are moving out of the country for adventure, savings, different opportunities, quality of life, and retirement, and as the Baby Boomer generation ages, these numbers will increase even more. Out of sight, out of mind? Not so quick, because they’ll still have connections, obligations, and problems back in the Old Country—pensions and investments, taxes, estate planning, and even elderly parents left behind. More Americans live abroad than live in the country’s 14th-largest state, Massachusetts.
The solo and small firm lawyers’ practices and clients today are vastly different from the kind of law practice their grandparents’ generation knew. The generation of lawyers who were weaned on “the medium is the message,” Timothy Leary, and the New Frontier are now the parents of lawyers who have already been practicing for a decade. And during that space of a generation and a half, the world became more seamless—and just as difficult to unravel. Even the lawyer whose practice is limited to clients living on the same block will be confronted, sooner or later, with matters addressed in this issue of GPSolo.