With the increasing globalization of the legal market, growing numbers of attorneys are embarking on a career path that involves some aspect of international law or the legal cultures and systems of other countries. For minority attorneys, especially, the international path can present its own unique challenges and opportunities, but ultimately, these challenges lead to success. Here are the stories of several attorneys of African descent and their unique paths to success in international law.
Using Legal Recruiters
Andrea Timoll, a Canadian of African-Caribbean descent, works as in-house counsel at an international bank in Dublin, Ireland. When Timoll originally decided to search for a job abroad a few years after graduating from law school and after having worked in Toronto, she thought it would provide her career with more possibilities for growth. According to Timoll, "I was bored by the prospect of continuing my legal career in Canada."
Timoll began her international job search by contacting legal recruiters in the United States and Canada. After working with North American recruiters for a number of months without any success, Timoll broadened her search by contacting recruiters in a select number of countries where she had an interest in working.
This move jump-started her job search. Before long, she had telephone interviews with a variety of foreign recruiters, who scheduled interviews with potential employers in Dublin and London.
When she flew to Ireland and London for a series of interviews, she eventually met the legal recruiters that she had spoken with by telephone.
"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't have wasted my time with domestic recruiters," said Timoll. Two recruiters she would recommend are Hughes Castell (www.hughescastell.com) and Hays Zmb (www.hays.com/legal/). Timoll also found her contacts who had already moved to London to be useful resources in gaining insight into the culture, job market, and general living conditions encountered in some European countries.
To date, Timoll has not been disappointed. In fact, she believes that there are fewer barriers for attorneys of color working abroad. "I find that working in Europe, people are more willing to judge you based on your performance rather than any preconceived notions of race," said Timoll.
Setting Up Shop Abroad
Annette Eddie-Callagain is an African-American woman with a solo practice in Okinawa, Japan, an island about two-and-a-half hours from Tokyo by plane. A native of Louisiana, she served in the U.S. military and was actually stationed in Okinawa. Today, Eddie-Callagain is the only licensed non-Japanese lawyer located on the island, and one of only about one hundred licensed non-Japanese lawyers working in Japan. She speaks some Japanese, but relies heavily on the language skills of her staff.
With a population of approximately 200,000, Okinawa is best known for having the world's largest concentration of U.S. marines. U.S. military personnel, their spouses, and dependents constitute the largest portion of Eddie-Callagain's client base. Over the past nine years, Eddie-Callagain has developed a general legal practice on the island, representing individuals regarding various issues arising on the military bases throughout Japan: medical malpractice actions, discrimination claims, court-martial trials, and a variety of other matters.
According to Eddie-Callagain, one of the most difficult aspects of practicing in Japan was the process to become licensed. "If I had known how difficult the licensing process was, I am not sure that I would have done it," she said.
The process began when Eddie-Callagain had to petition for the opportunity to apply for a license. She provided Japanese officials with certified copies of her degrees and transcripts, and then worked through a 32-page application package written in Japanese. During the process, which took a little over a year to complete, she was required to fly to Tokyo for final in-person interviews, accompanied by her own interpreters. To complicate matters even further, Eddie-Callagain, living in the United States at the time, had to lease office space during the licensing process, prior to the approval of her license to show a business address for her practice. During that period, she relied on the network of Japanese friends that she had developed while serving in the military in Okinawa. They helped her find office space and served as references throughout the process.
In terms of practicing and living in Japan, Eddie- Callagain enjoys her practice and the life she has created.
Working and living in Japan as a woman of African-American descent has presented few issues for Eddie-Callagain. This acceptance is likely due to the vital role she plays. According to Eddie-Callagain, "Oftentimes, I have a corner on the market, and I'm the one who bridges the gap between American and Japanese cultures for my clients."
Networking in the Human Rights Field
As a law student in Buffalo, New York, Nicole Lee, an African-American woman, did not follow the familiar path of practicing law for the summer with a U.S. law firm.
Instead, after meeting a few lawyers with a human rights background and placing a few inquires, she found herself with an offer to work in South Africa for the summer at the minority-owned law firm of Papier, Charles, Inc. During her stay in Cape Town, Lee worked on a class action case representing black South Africans and their claims relating to a sulphur dioxide disaster seven years earlier.
"I've found that sometimes getting your foot in the door has a lot to do with merit and networking," said Lee.
After graduating from law school, Lee decided to continue her work in the human rights arena and, after a few calls, she landed a job in Haiti with a group of lawyers prosecuting human rights violations.
From these experiences, Lee noted that being an unmarried woman of color working in developing nations is not without its issues. According to Lee, "In some countries, people may be reluctant to hire an unmarried woman of color because of local taboos." Lee notes that the reluctance of potential employers, both black and white, may stem from concerns regarding how her race and gender would be received by their clients. These potential problems, however, never materialized for Lee once hired and she felt fortunate to work in supportive environments. In fact, Lee believes that because she is African-American and often looks like the clients she serves, she gains their trust that much faster. This confidence often allows her to be a more effective advocate.
Lee currently resides in the District of Columbia and works for Global Justice, Inc.
Working Abroad for the Government
Tony Fernandes is an African-American who works as a Foreign Service Officer for the U.S. Department of State.
Having joined the Foreign Service in 1997, he has been stationed in northeast China and Canada, and recently accepted a three-year assignment in Russia, which begins within the next few weeks.
Earlier in his career, Fernandes wanted a job with an international component, but was a little lost in trying to access his options. "After graduating from law school, I wasn't sure how to even begin an international job search. I didn't have anyone I could turn to for advice. I didn't know anything about the Foreign Service," said Fernandes.
Eventually, Fernandes used a little creativity. One day, after graduation, Fernandes went through the Martindale-Hubbell directory and sent his resume to every law firm listed in Anglophone, Africa. His diligence paid off, and he landed a temporary assignment with the commercial law firm of Laryea, Laryea & Co. in Ghana. He worked in Ghana for three to four months, and returned to the U.S. with an even stronger desire to pursue an international career.
Once back in the U.S., Fernandes worked as an election consultant with a variety of international organizations, which sent him to South Africa, Ghana, and Nigeria. During his travels, he learned about the Foreign Service, and eventually applied to take the exam.
"There are a lot of misconceptions about the exam. I had heard that it was impossible to pass, but I found it wasn't that bad. Again, I didn't know anyone who had taken it," said Fernandes.
According to Fernandes, most people who enter the Foreign Service are in their mid-30s, but there is a wide range in ages. "A colleague who entered with me was about 55. He had always wanted to join the Foreign Service and didn't want to regret never giving it a chance."
In his current assignment, Fernandes worked as an advisor to Secretary of State Colin Powell in the Operations Center of the U.S. State Department, a 24-hour crisis management center that directly briefs Secretary Powell on a daily basis.
Networking with Minority Bar Associations
A strategy that many of these attorneys share, regardless of whether their international careers led them to Europe, Africa, or the far reaches of Japan, was their networking within minority bar organizations or other minority legal associations.
The bonds within minority legal communities that are often created in law school or later in life remain a source of professional support throughout many attorneys' careers. In the African-American legal community, for example, these relationships often form during law school through the local Black Law Students Association (BLSA) chapter, or through professional organizations such as the National Bar Association, the oldest and largest association of African-American lawyers, judges, and law students in the United States.
The importance of these bonds cannot be overlooked or underestimated when pursuing new job opportunities or a non-traditional career path. These ties are especially significant for those pursuing any sort of international career, because within many minority communities, the sense of community and common experience help foster a reliable network of potential contacts that can be helpful in identifying various international job opportunities.
However, the resources within minority legal associations do not end with U.S. organizations. The Society of Black Lawyers of England and Wales, the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, and the Black Lawyers Association of South Africa are examples of bar organizations that are located abroad and that are potential resources for U.S. minority attorneys looking for international opportunities. The same sense of community and shared experience that is present within domestic organizations also exists within these foreign associations.
In fact, a group of attorneys from foreign and domestic bar associations are working together to pool their resources not only for sharing information regarding employment opportunities, but also for creating a minority business referral network.
LexNoir (www.lexnoir.org) is a web-based organization that brings together the networks, members, and resources of various bar associations of African descent. Formed in 2000 in cooperation with the Society of Black Lawyers of England and Wales, LexNoir uses web-based technology to connect lawyers and communities of African descent to build global relationships.
Today, the practice of law often involves interacting with foreign cultures and legal systems. Oftentimes, representing clients and pursuing career options in this new environment calls for specialized skills, languages and knowledge, but, as seen by the variety of career paths of the attorneys profiled, the possibilities of how to create a niche within the international arena are virtually limitless. In short, for minority attorneys in particular, the global legal community created by the "internationalization" of the profession presents unique opportunities and challenges that many attorneys of color are uniquely positioned to meet.
Kendal Tyre is a corporate partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Nixon Peabody LLP. He currently serves as the chief-of-staff for Clyde E. Bailey, Sr., president of the National Bar Association. He is also one of the founding members of LexNoir, a global web-based network for lawyers and communities of African descent.
He is active within the African-American bar and thus the profiles presented were drawn from his network of black lawyers. MCCA® would like to hear from our readers about other international law networks within bars of color. Please contact I. Clayvon Lighty, editor, at ICLighty@aol.com.
From the November/December 2003 issue of Diversity & The Bar®