International legal collaborations have been the norm for almost a century, and it is the natural consequence of international trade and a global investment climate where particularly sizable projects in developing or underdeveloped countries necessitate foreign investment.
For instance, power generation investments require the application of the laws of many different countries from the project development stage to the completion of the project and the beginning of its commercial life. In this context, one should deal with many legal systems simultaneously, particularly the law of the project country and different laws to be applied to financing agreements, EPC (engineering, procurement, and construction) contracts, O&M (operation and maintenance) contracts, and agreements between the project partners such as JV (joint venture) or consortium agreements.
To enter legally valid, binding, and enforceable contracts and avoid actions that violate any legal systems, reaching out to your colleagues who will cooperate with you in each legal system is crucial. It has become increasingly straightforward thanks to rapid technological developments since the 1980s.
However, in parallel with the present-day question of “is globalization at risk?” whether international legal collaborations are also at risk has become a concern.
It is alarming that international legal collaborations may be under threat because it is impossible to succeed in some matters without such cooperation, such as the below dispute where I acted as the lead counsel for a client in the past.
It was a shareholders’ dispute between a Turkish company and two US companies, which were the partners of a project. It started with an arbitration case in Geneva, and lawsuits in New York, Amsterdam, and Moscow followed due to the location of the project and contracts between the parties. We have hired law firms in relevant countries with expertise in such disputes and law firms in countries with laws governing related agreements. Our days and nights have passed by developing strategies with our colleagues in six different legal systems and time zones and working word-for-word on each petition, evidence, or declaration. Since each case involved matters affecting the other, we prepared for all cases together as a big team. Although this practice required us to be accessible for seven days and 24 hours, e-mail and teleconference technologies allowed us to follow these cases together.
If there were a similar case or project today, I do not know if we could conclude it with such optimal time and resource management. Because current political developments in the world signal that there may be changes in the collaboration models that we are accustomed to and perhaps take for granted.
In this respect, it is a severe development that many international and distinguished law firms closed their offices in Russia following the February 2022 Ukraine-Russia conflict. These law firms have a history of almost 30 years in Russia. Even if their clients leave Russia, the clients still need legal support to wind up. The same is true for clients with pending cases and Russian clients who used to work with these international law firms. Although these firms usually cooperate with certain local law firms, and if not, transferring projects, cases, or other matters to different colleagues is always possible, getting the pending work done is not the only problem. The more critical issue is the broken trust between the left behind clients and these law firms.
Besides, whether the nature of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a “war” or whether the “war crime” allegations are true are all controversial under international law. Just as the legal ground for economic sanctions towards Russia by third countries, mainly the US, UK, and EU.
If this conflict is a “war,” the legitimacy and justness of these sanctions are still questionable as per their effects on civilians. It seems the sanctioning states focusing on sanctioning Russian “elites” and institutions are ignoring the fact that they are also sanctioning, although indirectly, ordinary Russian citizens and the foreigners living in Russia, thus violating these people’s fundamental rights and freedoms...
So, leaving these discussions to international courts, I still do not think international legal collaborations will end. Due to my geography, I can tell this as a Turkish lawyer who closely felt the effects of the incidents in the Gulf region, Libya, and Syria in the last two decades. If in the past, despite all the turmoil in the Middle East, I was able to reach out to a colleague in Iraq to consult on Iraqi law for a client’s project, one will also be able to reach out to a colleague in another foreign country. It is like keeping the friendship of the Turkish and Greek people apart and the international political matters between Türkiye and Greece; lawyers in conflict countries and their allied countries will not suddenly become hostile.
However, we can expect a transformation in such collaborations. In the past, when one required legal advice for transnational projects, investments, or disputes, local offices of international law firms headquartered in the US, UK, or EU were the first ones that came to mind, but perhaps it will now be more local law firms because clients may be reluctant to hire an international law firm that may suddenly leave the relevant market. Such transformation may even result in a positive outcome and increase the collaboration among local law firms in different countries. It may also eliminate unfair competition created by several international law firms advertising their services freely, while local law firms are subject to strict advertising ban rules in some countries.
We may also expect an increase in the trend of importing local lawyers, i.e., employing more “foreign legal consultants” (lawyers licensed to practice in other countries) by particularly US and UK firms, which coincides with the increasing tendency of young lawyers in eastern countries to work in western countries. However, this would be a tricky decision for these firms if the candidates do not have substantial experience practicing law in their own country. As Justice Moses puts it: “Growing up in a certain environment we become acquainted with its social currents and crosscurrents and the sentiments and business methods of those with whom we are usually concerned in our legal practice. No brilliancy of mind, no learnedness in the law could balance lack of such experience.”…
In an extreme scenario, on the other hand, for international legal collaborations to disappear completely, projects, cases, or matters that give rise to this need must disappear first.
Is it possible? We can find the answer in international trade and investments. For instance, will the US stop selling technology to the world? Germany, from exporting machinery? The UK, from lending money? Will developed countries stop investing in developing or underdeveloped countries, exploiting cheap labor, or extracting natural resources from those countries?...
Av. Müge Önal Başer, LL.M., LL.B.