6 Ways to do Business Overseas While Reducing the Perils of Future Litigation

by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

As an executive or in-house counsel, your work likely reaches across the globe.

90% of companies in the United States are involved in litigation—much of it international. American companies have increased overseas business from 49% in 2008 to 72% as late as 2010.

If you work for a medium to large corporation, you are liking working overseas or interacting with colleagues that are. This means that you are likely working around the clock putting out fires, making deals, and juggling regulatory hurdles. Are you worried of running so fast in such unknown territory that you may miss something? Do you wish you had more time to learn everything to minimize your company’s business and litigation risks?

I have good and bad news. The bad—it is nearly impossible to know all of the intricacies of international law, customs, or the unique business challenges facing your company. The good news—you don’t have to. The reality is that ignorance of international law is not what gets you in trouble . . . facts do. Case in point, see Wal-Mart’s bribery scandal in Mexico.

Here are six habits you already know and should put into practice to reduce the risks of bad facts leading to future international litigation:

1. Watch What You Put in Email

You are in charge of an international project and the pressure is mounting. Your foreign counterparts seek written assurances. So, you go on the record via email stating definitively and unequivocally the company’s position. Years later and, with hindsight, you learn you were wrong and it comes back to bite you in litigation. Or maybe you feel especially close to your Brazilian counter-part after a night of food and drinks, so you share information via email about your company’s “issues.” That email is later produced in litigation and becomes evidence against your company.

Remember, emails live on forever and travel . . . fast! Like water leaks, emails go unnoticed until the full impact of their damage emerges years later.

This is basic, but often key in litigation. If you are doing business overseas: watch your tone, grammar, use of local colloquialisms, or use of vague undefined terms (e.g. “material” breach). Avoid definitive words like: “always,” “never,” or “definitely.” Give yourself margin for error. If you are assuming, say so in your email. If you still need approval for your written position, note as much in the email. Ask yourself, “is what I am writing something I would be okay having blown up on an overhead projector in court?” If so, send away.

2. Write Facts Down and Do So Clearly

The fear of bad facts or cross-examination should not deter you from writing. Given the language barriers of international work, communication is vital to your success. So, you should write emails and correspondence. But how? The key is clarity of facts.

This means, writing facts, not conclusions or opinions. When you portray facts, be objective and detail-oriented. For example, retell the other side’s position and your company’s response. Don’t assume that the other side will stick to the same story they told you orally, so document it.

However, you are often called to make conclusions or state an opinion. When you do, make sure you identify why, the process leading to the conclusion/opinion, and what factors could change your initial viewpoint.

Litigation is drama and international litigation is drama on a global scale where each side gives their “story.” Take the lead and document the “real story” by writing it down. When you do, and litigation erupts, a litigator like me can clearly and persuasively tell your story.

3. Respect Cultural Sensitivities, But Don’t Be Afraid to Follow Up

You are in meetings with your counter-parts in Asia and essential business issues come up. Yet, you are concerned about being culturally sensitive and not losing “face.” So, you let the issue pass and put it on your to-do list. As the days pass, hundreds of other “to-do” issues join it on your list and you forget.

Respect cultural sensitivities, but always follow-up. Better yet, document it, follow-up over the phone or in person, and document what you did. I have seen clients’ major multi-million dollar litigation matters get sidetracked because an executive failed to follow-up on a legitimate concern and subsequently “waived” the issue.

4. Be a Gatekeeper and Assert Your Contractual Rights

Companies and their executives fly to the moon to strike an international deal that benefits the company. They hire great lawyers to put in all the bells and whistles to protect their business interests. Yet, when the deal meets the reality of daily business life, gravity takes over and the precious rights protected in the contract fall flat to earth.

If you are the executive sent overseas to manage the project or handle the international distribution business, become the gatekeeper. That means: read the previously negotiated contract, understand it, ask questions about it, know it intimately, and then follow the terms of the contract.

If the contract gives you the right to documents from the foreign company, politely, but firmly get your documents. If the contract calls for a delivery schedule, follow it and insist the other side do the same. If the contract requires your foreign counterpart to act a certain way, do a number of things, or behave within the confines of a certain standard, make sure they do.

Your failure to know your contract and follow it, could waive important rights, change the terms of the contract, and create multiple avenues of arguments for the other side. This could come to haunt you later when you are back in the United States and the project you were in charge of heads to litigation.

5. Ask Questions, Look Around, and Gather Information

Maybe the most important and underused tool in your arsenal to reduce the risk of overseas business leading to litigation is to ask questions.

As you undertake your overseas assignment, you will notice that some things don’t make sense. When this happens, ask questions. Who is the foreign executive you are dealing with? What is his role in the company? Why is he asking you to meet with him and a foreign government official at a swanky resort? Could this be a problem? Maybe, but you will never know where you and your company stand unless you ask questions.

While you are asking questions, look around. If you are managing a construction project in Qatar, get on the ground and look at the project site. Don’t rely on others to tell you what is happening, see it for yourself. Open your eyes . . . is anything off? What’s there that shouldn’t be there? What isn’t there that should be there? If you know your contract (as in Tip 4 above), you will know what doesn’t look right.

Gather readily available information. The reality is that international litigation becomes very difficult and expensive from the United States when all of the evidence remains overseas. So, if you hear your foreign counter-part discuss a “regulation,” “policy,” or “contract” that they are relying on, ask to have a copy . . . and actually get it. Doing so will give your company an advantage in discovery if litigation ensues.

In the end, use your senses. What do you see and hear? Does it smell or feel right? If not, take note, ask questions, and gather information as it occurs.

6. Seek Advice

Note, it is wise to seek advice on international law when doing business overseas. Whether you are working on an international investment deal, cross border real estate transaction, want to protect your intellectual property, or are worried about immigration exposure, it is good business to get counsel.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP

Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.