Ten Tips for Selecting Local Counsel in a Foreign Country

By Joseph G. Miller Esq.,

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army

Your client’s company has been growing quickly and is now ready to expand into the market in Ghana with its new gold mining equipment. They have been in contact with the leading heavy equipment provider in Accra, the capital, and they have now come to you with a rough outline to set up a partnership with this company in Ghana. Many questions are going through your mind at this time centering on how do the laws of Ghana relate to this partnership, and you quickly realize that you will need to work with an attorney in Ghana to setup this partnership and to make sure that all regulations are complied with there.

How do you find an appropriate legal partner in Ghana to handle issues there?

  1. Define the issue. The first step is determining what type of legal issue that you have. As in the United States, foreign law firms usually specialize in one area of the law such as commercial transactions, criminal, or export and trade. It is important that you frame the requirement clearly and succinctly since that “job sheet” will be the basis for negotiating a relationship with a foreign law office.
  2. Look at foreign offices for firms that practice in Maryland. The global market for legal services has resulted in consolidation across national borders, and many law firms that have offices in Baltimore or Washington, D.C. also have offices in London, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, and many other cities. Contact the office in Maryland and they should be able to provide you a point of contact and an introduction to their foreign office. Firms can also often bill locally in Maryland for work done overseas.
  3. Referrals. Talk to other attorneys who have worked in the country and see if they have a law firm that they can refer you to. The testimonial of someone who has used a particular lawyer or law firm is a good way to start, and a personal letter of introduction would go a long way in building trust with the local attorney. In many parts of the world, personal relationships are the key to most business transactions.
  4. U.S. Embassy list. United States Embassies maintain lists of local attorneys that they recommend for use in the country. All embassies also have an economic/business development office that can assist with vetting and selecting local counsel. This is one of the best ways to locate counsel in a country, because the Embassy usually has first-hand experience working with lawyers in the country, and can point you in the right direction. Having a detailed explanation of your needs from step one, above, will greatly assist the office at the embassy in meeting your needs. The website: http://usembassy.state.gov/ has a listing to all the individual U.S. Embassy websites.
  5. Martindale Hubbell listings. Martindale Hubbell is owned by the legal information provider LexisNexis. They have a listing of attorneys and law firms that have paid a fee to be listed on their website and their publication. A search under Ghana at their website: http://www.martindale.com/ brought 108 listing of lawyers and 15 law firms there. You can see a profile of each listing on the website and compare the entries.
  6. American Chamber of Commerce. There is an American Chamber of Commerce in almost every country where there is a business relationship with the U.S. Usually you can get the contact information from the U.S. embassy there or from the country’s embassy in Washington, D.C. There are over 50 chambers that have some presence in Washington, D.C. which have direct ties to the U.S. chamber in the country.
  7. The American Bar Association Section for International Law. (http://www.abanet.org/intlaw/home.html) The International Section will give you a listing of International members of the ABA. Many foreign attorneys and law firms are members of the ABA, and attend section meetings, as a way of increasing their business.
  8. Ask for references for the lawyer. Always establish the track record of the attorney or law firm that you intend to working with. References should be from overseas law firms or corporations.
  9. Web search. I recommended this last because there really is no control over who puts up a website, or what claims are made. However, this is a way to narrow the search for a possible lawyer in a foreign country based on areas of practice.
  10. Use all the above. The best way to find a qualified, experienced and reliable foreign attorney is to use all the above methods. Once you have found a possible attorney, follow up with references, the U.S. Embassy and other law listings to make sure that you have the right person.