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International Business Law and National Culture

From the spreading of the French civil code of 1804 to the adoption of a legal system in emerging countries, this paper analyzes on one hand the influence of national culture in elaboration and practice of law and on the other hand, the relevance of a multicultural approach in international trade relations and negotiations. Particularly, comparisons are made between France, South Korea and Canada.

More than an ice-cold dehumanized body of texts, the Law is above all a social science. It is a dynamic set of rules, in constant evolution and which is often the reflection of a given society at one time, the reflection of its expectations, of its fears, needs, habits, language… in short, of its culture.

In a global society where business relationships are more and more internationalized, and indeed multicultural, adaptation and open-mindness are essential. In consequence, it becomes necessary to be aware of the culture of your business partners.

In this context, the knowledge of the rules of international law is a necessity for the lawyer. But the efficient international counsel is distinguishing because he brings a true knowledge of trade practices, professional actors, and finally of the men and women of the target country. His open-minded thinking allows him to adapt to the culture of the business partner he has in front of him. In a larger scale, the lawyer must be able to analyze the relevant rules and to deduct cultural aspects.

Two main frameworks for elaboration and application of the rules of law were developed and exported across the world, affecting national law and international organizations law: The Romano-Germanic system, or so-called “civil law” system, and the “Common Law” system.

Me Dekeuwer has a strong experience and an educational background as a French lawyer in civil law systems. However, she also has experienced mixed legal systems, where both civil and Common Law tradition influences can be found, due to her accession to the bar of Quebec (Canada) and to her work as a lawyer in South Korea.

Her formations and experiences have allowed her to appreciate several common features between legal systems of countries (France-Korea-Canada) which are supposed to have very different cultures. In this sense for example, both Korean and French labor laws give the employee a protection, if not equal, at least of the same nature.

Sometimes, conversely, the relation to a given legal concept can differ significantly according to the national culture. It is the case with the notion of “liability”, much more central and potentially implying much heavier consequences in contract law of systems influenced by Common Law tradition.

Those aspects have diverse implications on the very practical aspects of trade relations. In this sense, law and culture are properly bound. For example, an Anglo-Saxon partner would be much more meticulous in contractual and pre-contractual negotiations, and would request the assistance of a lawyer more easily. A French partner would more naturally rely on the Judge’s further intervention, even if it is hypothetical. Regarding the Korean partner, the contract is seen with a much more evolving view. It is intended to be more like a relation between persons than like purely legal links.

Thus, it appears clearly that it is impossible to separate a legal system from its historic and cultural roots. The multicultural approach constitutes, in that, a tremendous asset in international trade relations, especially for the lawyer practicing with international business law.

Full paper in English published in the Inter Pacific Bar Association Journal of September 2014.


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