Becoming an international trade lawyer - Hogan Lovells

International trade hoglovells no label

Like it or not, borders exist. For trade to go on, the work of international trade lawyers is crucial. Five experts from the highly international Hogan Lovells oversee the free movement of knowledge to you, the lawyers of tomorrow.

How would you define an international trade practice?

Deen Kaplan, partner: First and foremost, as a regulatory practice, the lawyers who work in this area interact extensively with governments around the world. Doing this allows us to help our clients understand the ways that various governments regulate and address compliance and enforcement matters. In international trade law matters, the relevant government is effectively the arbiter in this sense. Our day-to-day work focuses on a combination of trade control matters (sanctions, export controls, etc.) , trade litigation (countervailing duties, antidumping cases, WTO disputes, etc.) and more recently, trade negotiations.

Beth Peters, partner: We essentially deal with the regulations and disputes that arise in light of the cross-border movement of people, money, items and technology services. The regulatory aspect is really at the nexus of all of this movement.

We also advise companies, associations and large US universities on the intersection of politics and political influences, and how they affect regulatory matters. On a daily basis, this involves many interesting matters, as there is a level of unpredictability that needs to be considered as companies plan their businesses and investments.

It involves becoming acquainted with and advising on the rules and customs that govern trade relationships between countries. We deal with domestic law and regulations administered by US government agencies, but we also deal with international law that is enforced by various government bodies overseas. International trade law includes a wide variety of issues such as export control, economic sanctions, customs and imports issues, immigration matters, trade agreement negotiations and subsidy cases.

"We also deal with international law that is enforced by various government bodies overseas."

Deborah Wei, senior associate:
Our group covers a variety of areas, including various material goods and software/technology that exits the US. We also cover the control of things coming into the US.

Maria Arboleda, associate: It’s a very wide area of regulatory law that centers on trade between different countries and parties, including the likes of governments, companies and other parties such as coalitions. At Hogan Lovells, we have two primary subgroup focuses: trade disputes and policy & trade compliance.


How would you describe your role as a senior associate within the international trade practice?

DW:As a senior associate, I work on several different projects. On the compliance side, we’re constantly juggling a number of matters, working with clients directly and helping with their compliance concerns. We definitely have a lot of responsibility when it comes to supervising the junior associates and paralegals staffed on matters. As a result, there is an element of project management within the role.

Associates at all levels have a great deal of responsibility and are directly involved with client communications and legal analysis. Senior associates engage clients directly, by leading client calls and meetings, but we also are involved with the training of more junior associates.

"We’re constantly juggling between direct responsibility to our clients and the management of the broader international trade practice across the firm."


How would you describe your role as a partner within this area?

BP: As a co-director of the practice, an important part of my role is shaping the practice’s ongoing strategy and business development activities.

DK: We work with the co-director in Europe as well, so we’re constantly juggling between direct responsibility to our clients and the management of the broader international trade practice across the firm. As the news headlines these days make clear, we are a very active practice group!


Describe an interesting matter you’ve worked on.

DK: One of our most interesting matters occurred last year; it involved the renegotiation of major trade agreements across the world. Hogan Lovells has had a direct and substantial role in assisting clients with the renegotiation of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). We’ve also worked on discussions with Europe and we’ve undertaken some good work with respect to China, South Korea and other countries in Asia. We are fortunate to have a strong global position with more than 40 offices, so we can do this type of multinational work due to our size and global profile.

DW:I’m helping with an international compliance matter where I’ve traveled to six different countries in six months. Each situation that we deal with is based on specific circumstances that require a lot of analysis and good judgment. International trade is a constantly changing landscape. For example, there have been a lot of changes with regards to sanctions on Cuba; we have therefore had to thoroughly track how the situation has evolved and the changes that have occurred. We can subsequently advise our clients on how to react to the situation. We have to plan a suitable approach whenever there is political upheaval on either side of the equation.

MA: I’ve been working on the softwood lumber dispute, which is the biggest trade litigation between the US and Canada. The dispute has revolved around US trade investigations of imports of Canadian softwood lumber, which is used extensively for many US housing and construction projects. We represent the government province of Ontario, Canada. At the moment there are two ongoing investigations that cover countervailing duties and anti-dumping issues. My work has involved US, NAFTA and WTO litigation proceedings.

BP: We also work with clients in the technology, pharmaceutical, aerospace and defense industries. One recent matter required us to prepare a classification ruling system for a medical device company. This revolved around an FDA approval of a medical device that assisted breathing. In another recent matter we advised US satellite manufacturers on export control issues related to satellite construction and launch operations, which included the approval of agreements and licenses.


What are the highs and lows of working in this practice area?

DK: The ‘high’ is really simple: it’s the ability to help clients with issues tied to either products or people in a commercially significant way. We want to help these products and people cross borders in a good way – a way that enables the employment of people throughout the world and the facilitation of international trade. Another high comes from working on compliance matters that involve some sort of national security matter; there’s an enormous amount of satisfaction that comes from being able to help protect our clients’ assets and security.

In terms of challenges – speaking only for myself – it is obviously a fairly tense time in the world of international trade at the moment. We are hopeful that we can contribute to building bridges that can provide a win-win situation for all parties, but this has been challenging, as you’ve no doubt seen in the press. There has been a lot of tension over the past few years, but it is our job to address these obstacles and the associated tension. Trade flourishes on predictability, but in recent times there has been an unusual degree of uncertainty.

MA: One of the highs of working in this area comes when you wake up in the morning, hear about a current issue in the news, and know that you’re working on it. At this point in history, many things are happening; it is a very interesting time to be working in international trade. It is exhilarating to be a part of these policy issues and to see the results that our input as a firm can bring. The lows are pretty much dependent on intense work periods and the handling of confidential information.

"We have to plan a suitable approach whenever there is political upheaval on either side of the equation."

How would you say the trade war between the US and China is affecting international trade matters?

DK: It is one of the most challenging matters we’ve dealt with in many years. And it has been challenging on all sides of the dispute. For example, it has affected our US agriculture clients, the solar industry, telecommunications and technology companies, and many, many other sectors.

We are hopeful that the two countries will agree on a framework to manage their trade opportunities and differences and have been working with our clients to help facilitate that. The US and China are two of the world’s most important economies, and the negotiators need to find a win-win solution. Hogan Lovells has deep relationships in both the US and China, and our agricultural, technology and other clients are eager to deepen trade and move past the dispute. We expect a continuation of the high volume of US-China work at HL in this area given the clients we represent. They will be seeking assistance as they navigate any new agreements and the new laws and regulations the United States and China are implementing.

BP: We have offices in over 40 locations, including in China. We have been helping companies and universities to understand the legal issues involved, so they can decide how to address these export and trade risks. We are hopeful that both countries will look at common ground and find ways to cooperate and trade in a more predictable manner. In the meantime, we are actively advising clients on the new national security regulations and enforcement actions targeting exports, imports, technology transfer, immigration, financial services, joint ventures, investments, and supply chain security.


How can students and junior associates keep up to date with the market and industry trends?

MA: Read the news and trade publications. I literally wake up every day and read what the latest is from the White House and many other sources. This then impacts my work for the rest of the day.

DK: In the past, it used to be hard to motivate students to keep up with the market, but now trade is on the front pages of many newspapers and online sources, in addition to the specialized journals we typically rely on. There’ll often be at least two or three articles of interest each day. Trade will likely be at the forefront of the news for the foreseeable future.

"When I have a customs question, I know who I can call, or I can walk down the hall to their office."

BP: The trick is to read multiple specialized trade publications daily; attend international trade conferences; and visit the Hogan Lovells website regularly, which has news alerts.


Where can new associates expect to be in five years?

DK: The sky is the limit, particularly now. Over the past year we have sent associates to a dozen countries in leadership roles to assist on major matters. We ask associates what they’ve done, where they’ve been and what kind of responsibilities they’ve had. Excellence is the filter, not level of seniority. We believe that if you’ve got the chance to allow someone to lead, let someone prove themselves.


What is unique about Hogan Lovells’ practice in this area?

MA: First, Hogan Lovells has many, many long-standing relationships within the government regulatory space, and that really helps. In our practice, we have expertise that includes former general counsels who used to work in government agencies, ambassadors and many other officials who can help us navigate how governments handle these laws and regulations.

In addition, our international trade team has a very horizontal way of working, which means that we really do work as a team. We have access to various channels of communication, as well as plenty of facetime that includes weekly meetings where we all sit down and discuss new developments. From an associate standpoint this is very valuable, as it makes the practice very open and provides opportunities to work on diverse issues in the trade law spectrum.

BP: What’s unique is that we have more than 45 offices worldwide that handle large, complex trade matters; we address issues across multiple jurisdictions, from offices such as Brussels, Moscow, Beijing and DC. This allows us to navigate global trade control regulations and advise our clients accordingly. Many of our attorneys have also held significant leadership positions within US trade agencies, which allows us to maintain strong and respectful relationships with regulators.

What also makes Hogan Lovells stand out is our wide range of expertise on a range of issues. These include export and import controls, foreign direct investment, economic sanctions, trade agreement sanctions, anti-dumping subsidy cases and the ability to address complex international trade matters worldwide.

"You have to be very open-minded about other cultures."

The breadth of our practice makes us stand out. We have such a big team, which covers elements like immigration and some cybersecurity matters. We share a breadth of knowledge across the group; when I have a customs question, I know who I can call, or I can walk down the hall to their office. It’s great to be able to draw on these multiple resources in one team and to see how the group works together across borders.


What is your advice for students interested in this area?

BP: Try a project as a summer at a firm that has an international trade practice or try to gain experience at a government agency that focuses on trade work. On a more academic level, try researching and writing an article on international trade during law school. I would also highly recommend starting to network with people who are involved in this area both in the US and beyond.

DK: I’d say two things: first, take a class in international trade law during law school – it is different from what much of you will study in law school. Second, if you have an international background or skills in multiple languages, this is a great and positive differentiator which can help you in this area. International trade relationships are easier to facilitate if those helping to secure them can speak the languages and know the cultures of the various parties involved. In the bigger picture, the goal is to move people and products across borders, while also obeying all the regulations and rules associated with them.


What personal qualities are beneficial to have as an international trade lawyer?

MA: You have to be very open-minded about other cultures. As a Colombian national and trade lawyer, I know that it’s essential to be very sensitive when navigating other cultures and understanding your clients’ needs. For example, I’ve worked with clients in China, Ukraine, Brazil and Canada, and each culture has different nuances. With this global spectrum of clients, you need to be able to accommodate everyone in relation to different issues – and I love that!

DW: Being a good listener is very important: you need to listen to your client’s specific needs. You need to understand how you can take a template of what a good compliance program is, and then balance that with a particular client situation and a particular risk profile. Laws don’t prescribe specific ways to set up compliance programs and manage clients. That’s why it is very important to understand the client’s business and also to have a curious mind – always be aware and actively looking to follow up on changes happening in this space.


Hogan Lovells logo

Read more about life as a junior associate at Hogan Lovells.