Help, My Employer Wants To Send Me Abroad – PART ONE

Here’s a great guestpost by Toni, a seasoned contract attorney conducting document reviews for over 6 years. Toni worked on a number of review projects abroad and is currently assigned to a matter in the USA. We hope you enjoy his insightful story an the helpful checklist he put together for you.

Eight hours with no internet connection and only a few good in-flight movies so, a great opportunity to write about a phenomenon, which has become more common recently, i.e. the likelihood of landing a document review gig abroad -or- being asked by your current employer to work on parts of your project outside your home jurisdiction.

Well here’s my story – I am writing this blog post sitting comfortably in my extra legroom economy seat on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Washington, D.C. on my way to the American offices of my current employer in order to assist in some production work.

Why me, a European educated and trained lawyer admitted in two jurisdictions in the EU? Good question – it is because of my language skills. The client of the firm is a big European blue chip company and there are foreign language documents which need to be reviewed and translated for production to the US regulators.

I have been working on my current matter for 14 months, and I seem to have proven myself to be a useful asset in terms of dealing with foreign language focused tasks as a member of the production team in London.

This experience not being a novel one for me, I’m mindful that being sent aboard for a longer duration requires a significant amount of preparation and planning; therefore, and perhaps in order even to help one or two others out there, I’ve attempted to put together a checklist consisting of what I’ve come to understand the 10 main points to consider and issues to discuss prior agreeing to work on a project in a foreign country.

CHECKLIST – Working Abroad as a Contract Attorney: 

1. Working Permit &Visa

This is probably the most important point to cover considering the potential consequences of non-compliance. Make sure that your agency/employer obtains a valid working permit and a visa in the country they want to send you to. Depending on the country, this might take some time, and may present a challenge in urgent matters. However, do not compromise on this point as the risks will primarily be yours to carry. I’ve personally heard about a contract attorney who was held in immigration custody overnight when arriving to the US for immediate deportation the following day. He was (instructed to) pretend that he was on vacation but he also carried hard-drives and files containing case documents with him, which gave the game away – so to say!?

2. Will Accommodation Be Provided?

Ensure that your agency or firm provides you with suitable accommodation for the duration of your assignment in the foreign country. Sounds obvious that they would but surprisingly it’s not really. Only a few weeks ago, I was contacted by an agency for a 4-week project abroad requiring that I organize, and pay for my own accommodation in spite of the fact that cost of living in the particular jurisdiction was even higher than London, which would effectively eat into nearly my entire earnings whilst out there – not to forget, of course, that I would have had also to maintain my apartment in my home jurisdiction. Naturally, I politely declined and pointed out that they will have a hard time finding contract attorneys willing to join under such circumstances. Whilst a nice hotel with all its amenities might be tempting at the beginning, when spending more than a week or so abroad consider asking for a corporate apartment instead. You will not only get much more space but also a more comfortable (home-like) existence

3. Costs Of Living & Expenses?

This point should not be underestimated. Imagine you are working on a sweet gig, long hours, food and taxis paid for. Now you are asked to go abroad to work in a city, potentially with even higher costs of living than NYC or London with no expenses paid (agency/firm would argue that they provide you with accommodation already, regardless of the fact that you probably still have to pay rent in your home country – more about that later). This will also eat most of your earnings. If possible, ask for the expenses either to be paid in form of a daily allowance, or to be incorporated in your hourly rate. This way you would not have to deal with rather lengthy expense submissions and approvals.

4. Are Regular Home Flights Provided?

Say, for example, that you’re asked to relocate to China for six months and the thought of leaving your friends, family, dog or guinea-pig ‘Trevor’ behind sounds like a deal breaker to you? That’s understandable. It’s common practice, in the ‘real’ world, for law firms to provide associates with regular flights home. Ask for reasonable and regular flights back home for a weekend or – depending on your location for a week to work and catch up on things. If you are asked to work pretty close to your home country, you could ask for return flights every weekend (if not required to work of course), and argue that this would potentially save your agency/firm the costs of accommodation for the weekend.

To be continued…

Watch out for PART TWO of Help, My Employer Wants To Send Me Abroad where Toni will share points 5-10 of the most important tips and points to consider for contract attorneys when being asked to work abroad.


7 thoughts on “Help, My Employer Wants To Send Me Abroad – PART ONE

  1. Great post CAC!! Keep up the good work, and thanks for your efforts in trying to provide a virtual home where these important issues may be discussed and views exchanged. This particular issue which I know a number of others of my friends have faced, that the recruitment consultancies in charge of staffing projects push to send CAs – perhaps already on a project in e.g. country X – to country Y to carry out work in the latter without proper permits/visas and do so by encouraging that the arrangement is run under the guise of, say, a vacation visa? Without any proper control and regulation of what is essentially a profession that is no better than estate agency [apologies to any estate agents for the unfavourable comparison], and without any governance or control – in some instances – from the ultimate client [in particular in situations involving legal process outsourcing] what chance do we have to protect ourselves and mitigate personal risk in the present market where lawyers are dime a dozen essentially and projects difficult to come by?

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    • As both an ex-estate agent in Germany and a US contract attorney subjected to agencies who, as I can assure you, truly work on the same principal, I wholeheartedly agree! No offence taken but guilt also passed on to other parties – clients/ customers, who believe that competition is everything. So various staffing agencies advertise the same job they have not landed and some submit your resume – baring you from working for that firm if that agency does not land the contract to staff the project. The contact is awarded last minute to the lowest bidder. So even if agencies would want to,by the time they get the contact they would not have the time to procure visas. This does not take into account that many would not want the added expense and hassle or simply do not have knowledgeable staff. Many consultants appear to be on commission and thus interested in getting to have as many bodies on the project as possible without the means to ensuring you are there legally unless it is a US gig where they will bend over backwards to make sure you can work here. English speaking countries seem to be especially bad. I remember interning once at the UN in Geneva,Switzerland and my Kiwi boss refusing to “legalize” me, telling me that I should tell the police if ever stopped, that I was a tourist. Americans are used to people coming to their country to work here illegally but do not think much of doing the same elsewhere and are surprised to find that, that is illegal elsewhere as well. I have two nationalities and do not care but US colleagues of mine were told to go to Europe as tourists – that is by agencies who had realized that other countries also require work visas – a though that has not crossed everyone’s mind. It will not change until other countries crack down on this practice just as Canada started doing last year with US Tango teachers who had been on their way to teach at festivals. The agents checked the Internet and found them billed as teaching at the festival so the teachers found themselves on the next flights south. I disagree with the initial comment about the visa violation being only a matter for the individual contractor as we are “employed” by the agency and are handpicked by clients who, dare I say it, are for the most part foreign based law firms, who really should know better. If I choose to employ someone without proper documentation I get fined and he gets deported. This conjures up the image of Hispanic day laborers hanging out by an intersection waiting for people who need help that day to drive by and pick them up. Although sometimes I also feel treated that way by employers. I have been offered flight and accommodation only once and the gig fell though the day before I was to leave. I agree regulation of the industry would help (even the agencies who waste a lot of time, energy and money on useless competition over a very limited amount of contractors with specific skill sets, upsetting many of us by offering insulting rates. German pays 50/h. I saw an ad from a reputable agency once which had no experience with document review but wanted to get in on this lucrative market, offering a whopping 25/h. When interviewing with them I discovered that she had assumed that we get paid less as we do not speak English – evidently my US JD and bar passage had not tipped her off). I see you have bought the industry myth that we are a dime a dozen. Not true once you move beyond the usual English speaking lawyer without special skills. There really is a surprisingly limited number of us. I keep running into the same people on the circuit in the US – many come in from other states and many of us know each other and gossip about agencies/ review locations/the latest messed up version of a standard language test, etc or update each other on jobs. I would love to copy and paste the comments above about having ongoing expenses at home to send to agencies in low salary states which also want to get in on the action and cannot understand why $38/h in Atlanta are economic suicide where accommodation and transportation are not covered. I have told them time and again and they appear baffeled not to get a hold of us otherwise pretty mobile bunch. There are lots of other practices which have become more common such as the flat rate (pending on the outcome of a NY suit to determine whether we are professionals and should not get OT pay or whether the nature of our work pemits OT pay), starting projects mid week to avoid going into over time or spreading them out over 2 weeks by starting the week end of the previous week to avoid over time, making us sign indemnification clauses (response to the McDermott case where everyone including staffing agency and named document reviewers where charged with malpractice by the client) and regularly overstating the actual length of time the project will require, not taking reviewers who are on a project which will finish up soon and is already downsizing, sending reviewers home when the system is down or making them stay home but not find new work while new batches are uploaded, which can sometimes take days, not rehiring people who have left projects early, etc. Of late I have heard of many reviews which upset everyone on the project by exaggerated use of these practices and leaving revivers feeling cheated, which will not serve to build a contract reviewer base of quality in the long run but just illustrates the modern business shortsightedness invading every industry. I want to finish up by saying that I, too, am looking forward to the 2nd part of the blog. Great advice!

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