No more blogs in this space!

No more blogs in this space!

Everything is migrating to the Hague Law Blog, but we’re still your friendly neighborhood global consulting law firm.  Really, there’s no change to the operation—we’ve just taken the cheeky commentary to a new platform.  One that allows us to pontificate without having everything sound like a blatant sales pitch!

Okay, it’s still a sales pitch—let’s be real here.  But it will allow for subscribers and commentary that doesn’t draw the spam that this space draws.

Bottom line… enjoy.

The Hague Law Blog is LIVE…

(Updated 11/11/16… The Hague Law Blog went live yesterday.)

I’m off to Paris this morning for a week-long CLE program hosted by UMKC Law.  On Thursday, part of our group will hop a train for The Hague, to meet with the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.

I’m excited to announce that, while there, I’ll publish the premiere edition of the Hague Law Blog, at  In the meantime, stay here at for my past columns.

(Image by the author.)

There is no such thing as a service of process emergency.

There is no such thing as a service of process emergency.

No, really.  There is truly no such thing.

There is urgency brought on by poor planning, poor execution, or being simply blindsided by a surprise issue.  There is a last minute realization that a foreign defendant must be joined, and a long delay will grind the litigation to a halt.  Or there is simple unfamiliarity with the rules by a practicing bar that rarely faces cross-border procedural demands.

Tried & true concepts in litigation are changing at extraordinary speed (a platitude, to be sure), and litigation involving foreign parties and witnesses is becoming a major challenge for attorneys and courts in every jurisdiction.

Fortunately, rules in most courts provide ample time for service, especially Federal Rule 4(m), which specifically abrogates a hard 90-day deadline for service where the defendant is outside the United States.  As long as counsel isn’t dilatory (I had to look that one up), the spirit of the deadline is honored once a request for assistance is handed off to a foreign authority.  At that point, a lawyer can only wait for the authority to accommodate the request.  [NB: Most states reach similar conclusions by either procedural rule or case law.  Wisconsin and Michigan are the lone holdouts, and even they may offer some safe harbor to litigants.]

Critical in this analysis is the mandatory and exclusive nature of the Hague Service Convention.  In Volkswagenwerk AG v. Schlunk, 486 U.S. 694 (1988), Justice O’Connor wrote for a unanimous court that, where the Convention applies, its strictures must be followed.  The channels set forth by the Convention mean vastly different things in the various countries where it applies, and for the most part, this means the U.S. court hearing a case must usually wait patiently for service to be effected.  Simply put, our rules do not apply elsewhere.

Effective service abroad serve usually cannot be timed with a clock… several pages of a calendar comprise the better measuring device.*  In some cases, service can take over a year to be proved up.

Yet 4(m)’s safe harbor does not give an attorney unlimited time.  The dilatory among us face sure dismissal, and it takes a long time to reach that level.

* Exceptions to this:  parts of Canada, Australia, and England, where Article 10 negates the need for government channels to have a defendant served.  In rare cases, process can be served within a matter of hours, and proved within days.  But don’t bet the farm on this possibility.  Ever.

Image:  “10 O’Clock On A Sunny Summerday”, Robin Heymans, via Wikimedia Commons.  (For the record, Big Ben is the bell inside the tower.  The former St. Stephen’s Tower has been renamed Elizabeth Tower.)

About time, Czech Republ… er, Czechia.

About time, Czech Republ… er, Czechia.

An interesting BuzzFeed article popped up on my radar this morning thanks to the HuffPost morning e-blast (I love how media sites share each other’s stuff… if only they’d start sharing mine!)…

The Czech Republic Stopped Being A Thing While You Weren’t Paying Attention

Well, good. I’ve wondered for two decades why they didn’t just do that in the first place. Still, a rose by any other name…

Point is, Czechia is still a member of NATO, still a member of the EU (for now?), and still a member of the Hague Service Convention. It still objects to alternative methods of service under Article 10, it still requires translation, and it’s still pretty quick about getting the job done when we request service of process on a Czech defendant.

Now, if I can just find the time to get over there to see Prague!  (And maybe advise our embassy about the change.)

Photo: Prague Castle and the Charles Bridge, Frank Spakowski, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Phone on Fire? Serve Samsung the right way.

Phone on Fire?  Serve Samsung the right way.

They literally catch fire.  Literally.  Not in a “using the word ‘literally’ to make a hyperbolic argument sound stronger than it is” sense.  The things emit flame, without warning and seemingly without reason.  The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has become the new poster-child for defective products.  As if designed by Irwin Mainway himself (he of Johnny Space Commander fame).  See The Guardian’s latest (as of this writing, October 19, 2016) story here.  And USA Today’s bit about the Note 7 flight ban.  And the NYT’s take on how the thing plays out in China.  The company has rolled out a worldwide recall of the entire Note 7 line, but that doesn’t help the thousands of buyers whose handsets have already injured them.

Lawsuits have already begun, but Samsung is a highly sophisticated defendant.  If the company is not properly served—at its headquarters—then a suit has zero chance of progressing past the complaint stage.  Yet Service of process in Korea is not as daunting as it might seem.  It does require accuracy in drafting and, despite the obvious competence of this particular defendant in English, translation into Korean is required.  [Help is available to the practitioner who does not wish to spend ten hours getting up to speed on the procedure.]

The Republic of Korea (ROK) is party to the Hague Service Convention, the strictures of which are mandatory in U.S. and Canadian law (the Note 7 catches fire in Canada too).  While the text of the treaty itself sets forth several methods for service of process, only one method is acceptable to all countries who have enacted the agreement.  Article 5 service entails a request to a Central Authority in the “destination state”, and is available universally.*  Article 10 sets out additional methods of service, provided that (1) the method used is acceptable under forum court rules, and (2) the destination state does not object.

In the case of Korea, alternatives are off the table completely.  Yes, FRCP 4(f)(2)(C)(ii) allows service by mail.  Many states likewise allow service by mail—some judges even require it regardless of Hague status.  Usual practice in common law jurisdictions calls for service by private agent.

But the Korean declarations to the Convention are explicit—the ROK objects to Article 10 entirely.  Mail is off the table for foreign litigants, and private process servers don’t even exist in civil law countries.

So you intend to sue Samsung because a Note 7 spontaneously combusted in your client’s hand?  Serve Samsung properly.  [And also be sure to go after the source manufacturer of the batteries… they might be somewhere else entirely.]

*Note that Russia is an outlier in this analysis… see here for more detail.

JASTA Won’t Work

JASTA Won’t Work

Congress’ override this week of President Obama’s veto of JASTA (the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act) comes as no surprise—the legislation is wildly popular, even though it upends a centuries-old international legal doctrine, and despite potentially disastrous ramifications to U.S. defense and intelligence efforts.  For the sake of focus, I’ll forego political and legal criticism of JASTA itself; that criticism has been thoroughly  developed elsewhere  (for just two cogent discussions of JASTA’s international jurisprudential ramifications, see Ted Folkman’s post on Letters Blogatory, and this Bloomberg editorial.)

I’ll also forego arguments in favor of sovereign immunity in general (nutshell definition:  with very few exceptions, nation-states are not subject to suit in the courts of other nation-states).  It’s a necessary though thoroughly frustrating concept, and Congressional leaders are already expressing second thoughts over their rush to override. Even the Act’s proponents now recognize how sovereign immunity protects us.

This is a practical criticism.  Setting aside this ancient doctrine and its value to U.S. interests abroad, let’s assume that claims go forward and the Saudi government actually appears to defend.  What then?  How might 9/11 plaintiffs substantiate their allegations that Saudi Arabia funded the attacks?

Plaintiffs bear a significant burden to show that a defendant caused injury, and whatever the complaint, whatever the forum, that showing requires evidence.  To prove the Saudis funded Al Qaeda’s 9/11 operations, a plaintiff must show a judge and jury more than mere conjecture—they have to show a paper trail.  They cannot simply subpoena documents located overseas.  That paper trail will certainly not be compelled in Saudi Arabia; the Kingdom is not about to cough up voluminous documentation demanded in the course of expansive discovery.  It is not going to be compelled in Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan or any number of other countries in the Middle East.  The plaintiffs’ best (only?) course of action will be to follow the money.  And where does the money trail lead?  To banks.  Especially Swiss banks.

Thanks to incredibly stringent secrecy laws (releasing client information has been a criminal offense since 1934), Switzerland is the undisputed center of global banking and the place where the most crucial evidence is likely to be found.  But the nearly impermeable nature of the Swiss banking veil is the stuff of legend, and the odds of a Swiss court ordering the wholesale release of bank records is slim at best.  Swiss law allows banks to release account information in only very limited circumstances—namely, under allegations of tax evasion, money-laundering, and fraudulent activity.  The Swiss have yet to fully carve out an exception for state-sponsored terrorism claims, and even if they had such an exception, production of the evidence could only be compelled in Switzerland via a Hague Evidence Request.*

That instrument itself is delicate in nature—it must carry a surgically specific identification of the documents sought, and it must demonstrate precisely how the documents will be used at trial.  It cannot speculate, and it cannot purport to lead to other evidence (ie: no fishing).

This is where a case against the Saudis is most likely to fall apart.  American lawyers too often draft Hague Evidence Requests by simply copying subpoena language and pasting it into the Request.  Ctrl-C/Ctrl-V is not the best strategy for compelling evidence in civil law jurisdictions (like Switzerland).  Simply put, non-U.S. jurisdictions (even our fellow common law countries!) have prominent “No Fishing” signs posted at their courtroom doors.

So cui bono?  Who benefits from the statutory dismantling of sovereign immunity?  Not the victims or their families.  Not even their lawyers on contingency, who fight the good fight but lose for lack of evidence.

The winners will be the lawyers who represent the Saudis, and the members of Congress who can tell their constituents they stood up against a foreign tyrant.  Nobody else.

The victims of 9/11 will have been paid only lip service, as their families labor under a false hope:  if those who financed the attacks can’t be tried criminally, they can at least be made to pay recompense.

But the financiers have already beaten the rap.  And they’ll probably beat it again.


* The Swiss Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) does mandate that banks report certain information to Swiss regulatory authorities, and it allows the sharing of that information with other governments.  AMLA does not, however, circumvent the normal process of evidence compulsion through the courts; Article 31, Section (b) indicates that non-Swiss requesting authorities must utilize the procedure set forth in the Hague Evidence Convention.

Image:  Daniel Patrick Moynihan Federal Courthouse, Manhattan.  Courtesy Wikimedia Commons,

No Fishing: The reality of the Hague Evidence Convention

No Fishing: The reality of the Hague Evidence Convention

Of the three dozen or so Hague Conventions (specify which one you mean, counsel!), the United States is party to only a few.  Among the most productive and useful are the Service and Apostille Conventions.  And although it is helpful, the Hague Evidence Convention is not the great and wonderful device that American lawyers might hope for.

From a U.S. perspective, the HEC does little more than knock down a few procedural barriers—most importantly, it negates the need to convey a Letter Rogatory through diplomatic channels, which saves significant time and a $2,275 State Department handling fee.  A Hague Evidence Request is still, for all intents and purposes, a Letter Rogatory.  By no coincidence, it is officially and synonymously titled a “Letter of Request”.  It is still a communication from judge to judge, it still relies on comity alone, it must still be surgically specific in detailing the evidence sought, and it must still demonstrate precisely how the evidence will be used at trial.

In short, no fishing.

Why?  Because of Article 23, which is, for lack of a better analogy, a big, ugly middle finger directed at U.S. litigators.  It was hastily drafted on the back of a bar napkin as the Convention seemed doomed to failure.  U.S. negotiators recognized that American-style discovery (in the 1960s, a mere shell of today’s fishing industry) was poisonous to the Convention’s chances, so they conceded to the inclusion of the following:

A Contracting State may at the time of signature, ratification or accession, declare that it will not execute Letters of Request issued for the purpose of obtaining pre-trial discovery of documents as known in Common Law countries.

Put more clearly:  this treaty doesn’t oblige a member country to fulfill an American discovery request if they don’t want to.*

Accordingly, requests filed pursuant to the HEC must not bear the hallmarks of a discovery demand.  Standard subpoena language—particularly the phrase “any and all”—is damaging, and potentially fatal.  Careful drafting and the involvement of foreign counsel are critical (yes, we can provide both).


*Although the idea rises from the difference between common and civil law procedures for compelling evidence (in civil systems, judges—not lawyers—demand the production of evidence), even other common law countries have embraced the idea.  It truly is directed at the United States, but the targeting is masked by the moniker “Common Law countries.”


Image courtesy of “Bidgee”, via Wikimedia Commons.

Holding down the cost of serving abroad

Holding down the cost of serving abroad

You’re suing in your hometown.  Jurisdiction is clear.  You have everything you need to get the ball rolling.  There’s just one thing about it that differentiates it from the rest:  the defendant is overseas.  And that difference could mean a massive increase in the cost to litigate.  A good chunk of that increase is wrapped up in serving process.

For the most part, this isn’t a deal-breaker.  Serving abroad is not rocket science, frankly.  Given a few extra hours, any lawyer can figure out how to do it, but compared to Paris (Texas), Paris (France) is an entirely different breed of cat.  [Click here for the Secret Sauce recipe!]

Don’t use seven words when four will do.

— Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt) to Linus Caldwell (Matt Damon), Ocean’s Eleven, 2001

The easiest way to keep costs down is to keep the pleadings as short and sweet as possible.  Translation often reflects the biggest share of the cost to serve abroad, so brief and succinct pleadings are the surest way to rein in costs.  Federal notice pleading all but mandates such brevity—truly, unless the complaint involves several different issues, a federal case is bound to be short (likewise in notice-pleading states) in order comply with the rules.  Fact-pleading states may be a different matter, but properly stating a claim does not require Tolstoy-esque storytelling.  It also does not require reams of exhibits that will necessarily have to be admitted into evidence later.

Brevity is key.  And often the toughest key for lawyers to sing in.

(For the record, the text above, including the Brad Pitt quote…  255 words.  It is excruciating to just leave it at that.)

Image:  Promotional material for Ocean’s Eleven (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2001).  Lifted here as an homage to one of my favorite movies.  It happens to be on Amazon Prime right now, and this was a really short blog, so go watch it.  Your cool factor will increase.

Service of Process in Hong Kong means Hong Kong, CHINA

Service of Process in Hong Kong means Hong Kong, CHINA

Simple practice tip: if your defendant is located in Hong Kong, be sure to refer to the jurisdiction as Hong Kong, China or, alternatively, Hong Kong S.A.R. (shorthand for “Special Administrative Region”).  Any request which refers to Hong Kong in isolation, and is submitted to the Hong Kong Central Authority for the Hague Service Convention, will be rejected as a matter of course.  Hong Kong government officials are particularly wary of showing any offense to the government in Beijing, and they insist on this nomenclature out of abundance of caution (aside: I truly wonder if Beijing even cares, but it is not for me to judge).

When Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony and returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the Chinese left the common law system of justice in place along with the United Kingdom’s general view of the Hague Service Convention.  While China limits Hague channels to only Central Authority requests, the UK declarations also allow service by postal channels and via solicitor.

Service effected by a solicitor does not require such linguistic fastidiousness* on the part of plaintiff’s counsel.  But it is still wise to draft pleadings with care—especially if an enforcement action might someday be necessary in Hong Kong.  Imagine the knot in your stomach immediately following this opinion from a Hong Kong court:  “while we may find merit in the petitioner’s request that this Court recognize the judgment of the United States District Court, we must nonetheless decline to hear the matter because the original U.S. pleadings attempt to elevate the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to the status of a sovereign state.”

All that effort to litigate the claim… vaporized over a seemingly trivial issue.  Yet the Chinese culture demands saving face, and linguistic status matters greatly.  Hong Kong necessarily shows deference to Beijing, so U.S. and Canadian lawyers must do likewise.

* I looked this one up on  Seriously.

[Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0,  Accessed at ]

Look outside your silo

Look outside your silo

I spent the better part of last week railing against (and about) doctors.  This is not a rant against the medical profession, although it may seem so.  Rather, it is a comparative view of our two little guild monopolies and their mirror-image foibles.

My mother was hospitalized recently, and I very quickly concluded that specialists don’t look outside their own particular silo of practice to see how various problems interact.  The endocrinologist doesn’t pay much attention to pulmonology, the pulmonologist has nothing to do with anything not pertaining directly to breathing, and the GP just shrugs and points to the specialists, as if to say “I dunno“.  It seems that only extraordinary physicians of whatever type actually talk to the patient.

Perhaps it’s because they fear ATLA members coming after them in the night with torches and pitchforks, but their lack of a broader view diminishes treatment value.  If nobody is coordinating the specialists, there is no continuity, and the patient takes longer to heal.  (Not to mention, her lawyer son tries like mad to come up with a cause of action.)

It’s excruciatingly simple, folks.  The lungs, the heart, the glands, the feet… all those systems are interconnected.  One body, one person, one whole.  So how about treating the patient rather than the symptom?  There is certainly merit in a doctor deferring to experts outside his specialty—nobody wants a radiologist to wield a scalpel—but there is far too little holistic treatment going on in our hospitals.  (Exception: Osteopaths.  An entire degree classification dedicated to holistic treatment.)

Lawyers seem to have the opposite problem.  We have far too much holistic representation going on.  Lots of general practice attorneys—and even many specialists — are too hesitant to admit that a client’s needs go beyond their expertise and they have to call in outside help.  Very often we want too much to be all things to all people.

But the best lawyers recognize that all the research they have available to them doesn’t make up for a solid consultation with a Sherpa.2

A close friend called me a while back to ask if I would represent her husband in a med-mal case.  Hell no, I told her.  Sure, I know in general how to do it, but you need a whole lot more expertise than I can offer.

I referred it to a Sherpa, with a promise to second chair if it came to trial.  Sure, I could have studied up, researched into the wee hours of every night for the next month, and probably gotten a paltry settlement.  The wiser course of action was to look to my colleagues for help.

The first rule in the book—literally, the first—demands legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.  Going it alone isn’t going to reach that level.  (I’m thrilled every day when I see so many colleagues on the Missouri Solo & Small Firm Listserv asking seemingly inane questions.  They are only inane to someone who works in a particular arena regularly.  To the rest of us, the questions are completely valid.)

The takeway: don’t be afraid to reach out for help.  Refer it to a colleague.  Ask for guidance from others.  Call a Sherpa.

I don’t look much like anybody from Nepal (except perhaps this very good-looking yak)…


… but a client told me a while back that he “sure (was) glad to have a Sherpa along with us on this thing.”  Before you tackle that issue in China or Germany or Mexico yourself, pick up the phone.  Yes, I’m going to charge you, just as you’re going to charge your client.  But your client will pay a whole lot less—and with significantly less risk.

Of course, ethical rules prohibit statements such as “I specialize in traffic tickets” or “I’m a probate specialist” because they might lead the public to believe we have more expertise than we really do.  But let’s be real.  When we refer a client, we ask each other, “who do we know who specializes in XYZ?”  It makes far more sense for us to describe our specialty than to post some inane statement like “practice limited to tax matters”.  It’s just plain silly, but we have to accept the limitation in light of disciplinary actions where somebody claimed expertise they didn’t actually have.  I’ve taken to generalities like “I handle cross-border issues in litigation.”  That indicates to people that I specialize in the stuff.  I just can’t say I specialize in the stuff.  The mind reels.

Sherpa:  a mountain guide in the Himalayas, relied upon by even the most experienced climbers for their skill, knowledge, and ability to function at high altitudes.  Without a Sherpa named Tenzig Norgay (read: badass), Sir Edmund Hilary would have simply been simply Ed from Auckland, a frozen fellow halfway up the side of Mount Everest.


Photo credits:  both public domain images via Wikimedia Commons, and respectively.