No Layover: The Ins & Outs of International Careers in Law - An Interview with Kristen Geyer
By Laura Bladow • January 25, 2016•Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Law School, Pre-Law, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Features, Guest Bloggers and Profiles of Women in the Law
In December, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Kristen Geyer, a Partner at Culhane Meadows PLLC. Kristen began her career in the securities practice group of a large Wall Street firm. When she decided to move from New York to D.C., she leveraged the computer skills from her journalism background to find work in the emerging practice area of computer law. With her background in securities, Kristen represented corporate clients and their interests in the new technologies of online trading and automated trading before the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). She further developed her international legal expertise when she was invited to join the SEC to help them progress the regulation of these new securities trading technologies in the United States and international securities regulations.
Kristen encourages aspiring attorneys interested in an international practice to “try different things until you find something that you love. If you get out there and your first role isn’t terribly exciting keep your eyes open. The opportunities are out there, and what you see in law school is a really narrow view of what it means to practice law.” Kristen continued to expand her understanding of what it means to practice law as she seized the opportunity to work in London for the U.K. Securities & Investments Board, and after London she was recruited by JP Morgan to work for a multinational financial business based in Brussels, where she later became General Counsel. Today, Kristen has a thriving international corporate law practice. On any given day Kristen can be found managing a corporate deal that spans multiple jurisdictions, while also fielding questions from her domestic and foreign clients.
Structuring a multiple jurisdiction deal is quite complex, and Kristen coordinates with her client’s internal legal team and special counsel in each jurisdiction to identify all of the relevant legal issues across all of the jurisdictions involved in the deal. For example, European contracts can seem very short and simple to a U.S. trained lawyer, but this is because many of the terms are not included in the written contract because they are already outlined in the country’s civil code. In contrast, the U.S. legal system generally expects all terms of a contract to be outlined in the final, signed document. This can lead to communication disconnects when an American client receives an incredibly brief contract from a European company. In dealing with the laws of different countries, Kristen urges U.S. based lawyers to constantly ask themselves, “What don’t I know?” and then research to learn what typically goes into a contract in that particular country and why certain terms that a U.S. company would expect to see are missing. In a European country much of this research will focus on understanding the mandatory contractual terms in the civil code and how they will impact the execution of the contract.
Kristen’s success in this practice area comes from her interest in the different cultures, laws, and legal structures of foreign countries. There are many legal traditions in the world beyond those familiar in Western jurisdictions. Even in jurisdictions that have common law or civil law foundations, various legal and cultural nuances unique to each jurisdiction can greatly affect how Kristen assesses the risks to her clients, advises them during negotiations, and ultimately structures the final deal. Often the practical aspects foreign laws can be confusing for her clients because the laws of a foreign jurisdiction can be closely tied to the jurisdiction’s culture. For example, labor and employment laws can be quite generous to employees in a country like France. From an American perspective these laws might seem impractical and threaten a company’s bottom line. However, when considering the underlying French culture, investing the time to find practical ways to understand and comply with these laws can not only make more sense, but can also save time and money in the long-run.
Kristen also encourages young women interested in international practice to keep an open mind about working with other cultures and not to shy away from working in any other countries. In her experience, “if you put the time in to learn about other cultures and their style of communication, the global economic structure is such that foreign companies are perfectly comfortable working with women lawyers.” This type of knowledge cannot be acquired in the classroom, but will come with years of a rewarding international practice.
Write a comment
Please login to comment
Raychelle_Tasher February 09, 2016
I really enjoy your blog Laura. I think Kristen makes a great point about keeping an open mind. Thanks for sharing!