The value of overseas experience in legal
Nico A. Jansen graduated in private law at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands and has a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Edinburgh Business School/ Heriot Watt University in Scotland. In his capacity as managing consultant of www.legalmarketing.nl he operates as an interim lawyer and marketer and holds a lecturing position in (European) Business Law at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the VU University in Amsterdam.
This article considers lawyers’ value on the job market, specifically what the potential value of overseas experience is. Creativity, business and marketing theories are combined to find answers to this question.
From a business perspective, law firms constitute a market in which there are the buyers, and ‘products’ wherein the lawyers are the products which need to be sold to the buyers in the market. Universities and lawyers are an ‘industry’ which develops, manufactures, communicates, and delivers value to the market or market segments. So in business terms the value question can be refined into ‘ which elements of the services mix offered by lawyers to law firms are highly valued because supply is less than demand. It is a simple economics’ principle that scarcity of resources increases their price; i.e. potential fees and salaries.
So what’s going on in the market. Let’s refine the market to law firms serving multinational companies. In consumer markets these companies would represent the high-income segment. The demand of law firms serving these companies is a so called ‘derived demand’. Derived demand is a term in economics, where demand for a factor of production, read lawyers, occurs as a result of the demand for a final good; in this setting litigation services and legal advice. So this actually leads to a simple question ‘what are law firms looking for to serve multinationals?’ which in turn can be reformulated as ‘ what do international companies expect from their law firms?’. Supposing the question is right, one would think we are close to the solution to the initial question.
However, can we assume that ‘buyers’ know what they want and sellers know what to offer? The answer is not simply ‘professional legal advice’. This overlooks the fact that in services marketing ‘people’ are an essential ingredient in service provision. In services marketing it is generally accepted that recruiting and training the right staff is required to create a competitive advantage. Corporate customers make judgments about service provision and delivery based on the people representing the law firm. This is because people are one of the few elements of the service that customers can see and interact with.
But who are those customers: are they British when you are a London based English law school graduate, are they Dutch nationals when you work in Amsterdam? No, they can be of any nationality as multinationals implement leadership and talent development programmes which by rotating people across countries, continents and functional areas, are aimed at creating the companies’ future international managers. This means that any lawyer working for a law firm serving international companies may have to interact with customers with miscellaneous cultural backgrounds. Is that a skill which can be learned, probably yes, but that’s not the issue, the issue is ’how’. What is the best way to learn dealing with different cultures, yes ..experiencing different cultures.
This leads to the last question, ‘what is a different culture?. Is it useful for a British lawyer to learn the Dutch culture by experiencing it?. It absolutely is because when using Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions we find that the Dutch culture is feminine while the British culture is typically masculine. This cultural opposition is a source of immediate ‘mutual dislike’ which interferes in the essence of services marketing; the right ‘chemistry’ between service provider and service buyer. Lawyers which have the skills to deal with different cultures will be the true masters, assuming the basic social skills set is right, in building pleasant and productive relations with any international business manager.
Does this means that overseas experience is gold dust on a lawyers’ CV. For the answer we must again bring in the laws of supply and demand. For the law firms who serve international companies, value productive relationships, and understand the management philosophies of international companies, those lawyers from masculine cultures which have worked in feminine countries, and vice versa, have a gold dusted CV. The three value conditions emphasise what the general problem of value is; it is simply not always recognized! Please accept that sometimes all you are is dust in the wind.