The Law and Foreigners Doing Business in the United States

business law image Being able to do business globally is wonderful. But in doing business, as with travelling through or staying in another country, it’s always been a principle of mine to take all possible precautions not to have to deal, any more than necessary, with the legal system – including the police – in the country in question. As an Australian in the UK and Ireland I was more relaxed, but definitely more cautious in other countries with different legal systems and where I would be seen as more of a foreigner than I was in the two aforementioned countries. Not because I was consciously doing anything illegal but because I like a peaceful life.

That applies also to the USA. I have many friends in that country and I love visiting. I’m also aware that they have a different legal system and it is not in my interest to find myself in a situation of having to test it. As an alien, I could not expect to gain any comfort from the many hours I’ve spent watching, say, Law & Order or Boston Legal (make that, especially Boston Legal).

And it seems from a blog post I read today in the award-winning China Law Blog that, even though the US is signatory to the Hague Convention on service abroad of documents, there may be a practical obstacle or three to a foreigner getting any attention paid, within the USA, to any laws other than those of the USA and/or a specific State of the Union.

I almost got to meet the author of the post, Dan Harris, last year. Dan was to have joined Rich Brooks and me as a third panel member for the BlogWorld Expo session on Going Global with New Media, but unfortunately had a clash of commitments that meant his coming to Las Vegas on the day in question was not feasible.

Dan tells an amusing but cautionary tale of proposing, while presenting a case in Texas, to argue for consideration of a US Federal law prevailing over a Texas statute and being told by his legal colleagues, something like: “forget about federal law, this is Texas; we don’t recognize federal law down here.”

His firm’s experience in endeavouring to get US courts to recognize international law leads him to wonder about “the willingness of US courts to apply foreign or international law, even in those instances where US law calls for such application”.

I certainly don’t know enough about US or international law to be able to comment professionally on Dan’s post.

What I do know is that it reinforces my old principle of doing the best I can, while still doing business, not to have to test the legal system in the US or other countries. Even in my own, but especially in foreign countries.

This is not an argument for a head in the sand attitude to the law. It is an argument for prudence and the eschewing of recklessness.

My own preference with regard to the USA has always been to look for ways of forming strategic alliances with like-minded American business people in the same line of business, rather than trying to go it alone.

And to have good legal advice.

(photo courtesy of linusb4)

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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