My Education: BS-Industrial & Labor Relations, Cornell University; JD, Harvard Law School
My Prior Experience: I worked for 5 years at a large corporate law firm in New York City. While in that job I worked on corporate law matters (contracts, finance, setting up new companies and projects) for various US and foreign companies.
My Company: I work for a small government agency that provides loans to foreign companies buying US-made goods and services.
Job/Career Overview: My job most relates to writing and negotiating finance contracts and related documents to provide loans and other financing to foreign (non-US) companies or governments that wish to buy US-manufactured goods or services. I work with business and finance (non-lawyer) colleagues to decide on the type and terms of financing support our agency can (or can't) provide, and I often work with foreign lawyers to determine what will legally work in the particular country the borrower is located in. I then work with my colleagues to negotiate (and draft) the exact terms of the financing arrangements and documents.
I also provide advice to my colleagues more generally about what kinds of financing programs our agency can offer, and how these financing programs can or should be documented.
Typical transactions my legal colleagues and I have worked on include financing of airplanes for buyers in Turkey, Indonesia and Ireland, power plants being built in Turkey, and satellites being sold to companies in Thailand, Malaysia and Russia.
More Insights: One of the least obvious things about a career as an international or cross-border transactional lawyer is how little "cutting edge" law I need to research and learn on a day to day basis. Instead, what I actually do is more learning the details of the actual deal (loan, sale, whatever) that the parties want to do, and then figure out how to write those terms into a contract the parties can agree on. Much more of my time ends up being spent on negotiating the deal as compared to figuring out esoteric legal points.
I think the most important qualities for success in my field are an ability to think very carefully about sometimes minute points and issues, spot the problems or elements that need to be worked out very, very carefully, then follow through and figure those things out (and write them into the contract or documents properly). My colleagues and I have to be self-directed, and very careful and meticulous about our own work product.
As to things I might do differently in my career approach, I would probably try to find a niche legal practice early on if I had it to do again. I have ended up in a very narrow niche (cross-border financing of US exports), but in the early years of my career I tried to be a generalist. To do international legal work of any kind (my goal from the start), you need to have a very narrow specialty that has application in an international setting. The first thing to do is get the specialization down -- the international aspect can follow after that. (This is particularly true if you're interested in working as a lawyer overseas.) Also, in today's job market for lawyers, it is very important to have a specialty that someone is interested in employing.
I rate this career 8 out of 10.
I like working with a team of colleagues, where we each bring certain expertise to our common task. Some of the best parts of my job also involve learning about the legal, political and economic systems of the countries in which our borrowers are located, and dealing with lawyers and business people in those countries. It can be very complicated to work out the terms of a loan to a borrower in places like Indonesia, Azerbaijan, Colombia or Thailand, and working through all the problems and considerations can be really interesting.
The worst parts of the job can be when as a lawyer I have to disagree with my business colleagues about terms that can or can't be agreed to or steps that can or can't be taken. Part of my job is advising my colleagues what they cannot do or should not do, and this can be difficult. Drafting long contracts can also sometimes be tedious and require a lot of concentrated work effort, which can sometimes be very hard to do on short deadlines.
Try to speak with corporate transaction lawyers about what they do to be sure you're really interested in that kind of work (and legal work in general) before heading to law school. Law school is a big time and money commitment that should only be undertaken if you're sure you want to work in the field.
If you're interested in international or cross-border finance or transaction work, you should be willing to start with US-based corporate transaction and finance work. The legal work is very similar, and you'll probably need a grounding in the US legal work before you can move on to cross-border work.
If you're interested in being a corporate lawyer you should be sure you like to read, write, and work on your own for long periods of time. (And can bear to read through lots of tedious materials.)
It can be helpful to have international experience, whether languages, work or study abroad, if you want to work in a company or agency that focuses on international or cross-border work.