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Shoes, silos and private practice legal jobs: how globalisation is changing the face of the partner

Posted by: Laurence Simons 14/11/12

Shoe news now, and earlier this year shoemaker Christian Louboutin sued fashion house and occasional shoe doer Yves Saint-Laurent (YSL). Louboutin was in a big French huff over the fact that YSL had put out a line of footwear featuring Louboutin's distinctive all-red sole, and took the case to them in America. As the Economist reports, this made things tres difficult.

Basically, the case was complicated by two main factors: firstly, the clash of French privacy law and the American legal system's expansive right to discovery, and secondly, all of the pertinent communications to the case were in French. And the French factor made things… difficult.

As Louboutin's lawyer Harley Lewin notes, this was an issue: not only with the sheer volume of e-mail communications lawyers were forced to sift through being complicated by the language barrier, but also by a cultural one. Evidently, it's more acceptable in France to send an e-mail saying "yep" or "okay" or "whatever" (only in French), meaning much of the electronic communication was essentially unusable. And this was further complicated by France's stringent privacy laws that mean low-level employees' names are prevented from appearing on certain documents that were part of the discovery process, while American law wants to look under every wad of notes, peek at every memo, talk to every intern.

So when these complicated cross-cultural cases come up, there is one key solution: translation services. And as The Economist notes, being fluent in the language and law of more than one country could make a young lawyer indispensible both in private practice law firm jobs and in-house.

"The many law students wondering if the rotten legal job market will ever improve should take note," said the magazine. "The twin forces of globalisation and technology may put many mediocre lawyers out of business. But those who master languages and computers may find themselves in demand."

TransPerfect is one such service that has mastered both. In the Louboutin case, the firm set up a 'silo' system to protect certain communications in accordance with French privacy law, while simultaneously obeying American court orders and providing a translation service. Research firm the Common Sense Advisory estimates this language services market is worth some $34 billion a year (£21 billion), and with tech giants such as Apple and Samsung slugging it out across oceans, that figure could be set to rise. Conservative estimates expect 12 per cent growth in the market next year.

And that marks a real opportunity for lawyers looking to take the next step on the partner track who know their trousers from their lederhosen. If you want to make a move to another country - or make the most of the skills you have on hand - talk to our recruitment experts.