I still remember the name of the toxic snail in the Donoghue v Stevenson from my first law lecture, back in 2008.

This shelled gastropod (better known as the ‘Paisley Snail’) had made its way into a bottle of ginger beer, decomposed and poisoned the unsuspecting Mrs May Donoghue, who promptly sued the maker of the beer.

This inveterate invertebrate almost singlehandedly (technically, singlefootedly) created the law of tort, establishing a duty of care between parties without a contract.

And his name was… Brian, at least according to our BPP lecturer, the excellent John Clifford.

How does this help me find advisers overseas?

The nature of expertise

The point is, professionals are trained to within an inch of our lives about the laws and standards in our home jurisdiction, able to recite the names of cases hundreds of years old (Donoghue v Stevenson is from 1932).

But as soon as the client asks, “So what about the position in Spain?” we swim to shore as quickly as possible, falling back on our terms and conditions: we only advise in relation to the laws of England and Wales.

Sorry about that.

Some professionals may have qualifications in more than one country, but that training is expensive, time consuming, and limited: an expert can’t be an expert everywhere. We all need a network.

Sometimes, if we are asked for our ‘gut feel’, we might give a high-level view of other common law jurisdictions, particularly those that still refer to Privy Council judgements. But civil law? Nope.

At this stage, we advisers have a choice. Does the matter need outside counsel, or not?

Find advisers: the referral problem

So how do we find advisers overseas? Larger firms are likely to have an in-built international network, though these are often cumbersome creatures.

For smaller firms, it is not much different from the way Roman merchants relied on family connections in far flung ports. It is all about trust and personal relationships.

The key issues smaller firms and sole-practitioners face are:

  • Existing contacts. Do I or the client have a preferred adviser in that jurisdiction? Do I have any existing contacts in the jurisdiction who can refer me to the right adviser?
  • Alternatives. If I don’t have any contacts, how can I trust a google search or law firm listings sites, where lawyers vet themselves? Do I point clients in the direction of the larger firms, whose size gives them an implied quality stamp, even if they might be more expensive and a bad fit?
  • The right adviser. Is the adviser the right quality, price and culture fit for my client? Do they speak English? Will they be responsive or correspond at a snail’s pace to rival poor old Brian?
  • Time and effort. How long will it take to find a good adviser and onboard the client at the other firm? What happens if the adviser doesn’t do a good enough job, or causes delay?

It is all about as pleasant as drinking a bottle of Stevenson’s pre-war ginger beer.

And if you’re a client, it is a matter of luck whether your lawyer has good connections in the relevant jurisdiction.

Breaking out of the shell

It does not have to be this way.

The flexibility and expertise that small firms offer, without the big firm approach, is highly valued by clients. If only smaller providers could be as globally connected as big firms, wouldn’t that make everyone’s life easier?

Now, they can.

Adviserly is building a referral network of dynamic smaller firms, where membership is based on trusted referrals and confidential feedback from other professionals and clients.

While we build the network, let us know what you need and we will find advisers to introduce you to, tailored to your requirements. There are no fees or commissions – we’re using this as a way to build our network organically.

If Brian – a dead snail – can become an international force for good – what is stopping you?

Robert Flint

Robert Flint is the founder of Adviserly and former corporate parter at a UK law firm.


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