Companies are doing more business internationally and dragging their lawyers along with them. As you can imagine, doing international work has obvious challenges — foreign law, culture and language, time zone issues, cardboard that airlines call “food,” etc. These next couple of Moonlighting posts are going to delve into some of the nitty gritty of practicing in a global arena by examining one very basic, but essential, part of the in-house practice that I’ve discussed before — a meeting.
But first, a clarification of terms. People often use the terms “international” and “global” interchangeably. However, in-house lawyers who practice in these areas may disagree. Assuming the terms are used by Americans, an “international” U.S. business refers to a business that is headquartered in the United States and operates individual businesses in other countries that focus on the market in each of those countries. In this structure, each business in each country focuses on its own business and does not often coordinate with the others — communicating primarily with the U.S. headquarters in a hub and spoke kind of structure.
On the other hand, a “global” U.S. business is one that’s headquartered in the United States and builds businesses in other countries that focus on how the market in those countries could support cross-border business growth. In the global model, businesses in the other countries often work directly with each other. For the sake of simplicity though, I’ll use the term “global” for the rest of this post to refer to both international and global work. Now that you’re sufficiently confused, we can move on….
There’s a lot to take into account and be aware of when planning a global meeting. The first planning item is timing. Let’s assume you’re a lawyer on the East Coast — say New Jersey, just to pick a totally random location. If it’s truly a global meeting with several countries all over the world involved, you can only comfortably have it at about 7:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, unless it involves California, in which case it can only be at 9:00 a.m. EST (and it will then be 11 p.m. or midnight in Australia). The other time you can have it is 1:00 a.m. EST, but that’s not as comfortable.
There are other timing considerations. Usually the region with the greatest number of participants has a greater say in the timing of the meeting. Except that lawyers kind of count less — about four lawyers count as the equivalent of one businessperson.
If the Middle East is involved, you’ll need to keep in mind that its work week is Sunday through Thursday (except for Saudi Arabia, where the work week is Saturday through Wednesday). And of course, there are also country-specific vacationing habits, national holidays, bank holidays, and religious observations to be aware of. For example, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims only work three or four hours a day, and meetings need to be held during their mornings (which is midnight our time). In January or February, certain countries in Asia are on an entire one- to two- week Lunar New Year shutdown. The clear takeaway here is that America really needs to come up with some major federal holiday observations instead of the pitiful three-day weekends that we look forward to every couple of months.
Another consideration in planning a global meeting is: how important is the meeting? Is it significant enough that you should travel and do a face-to-face meeting (to indicate additional support, evaluate participants’ body language, etc.)? Videoconferences are an alternative to in-person meetings, but there are also limitations. Videoconferencing can usually only accommodate up to four different feeds on one screen. You can shuffle people into a conference room to share one video feed, but again, this is challenging when you’re having these calls at all hours of the morning and evening around the world; many people are taking these calls outside of the office, and you don’t want to be seeing some of these people with their early morning zombie faces on.
Now that you’ve successfully planned your meeting at a time that’s convenient for nobody, we’ll continue this topic next week to examine the challenges of actually running and participating in a global meeting. Hint: it’s not as simple as using your Bob Barker voice.
Susan Moon is an in-house attorney at a travel and hospitality company. Her opinions are her own and not those of her company. Also, the experiences Susan shares may include others’ experiences (many in-house friends insist on offering ideas for the blog). You can reach her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SusanMoon.