With clients from around the world, immigration attorney Sklkime Abduli could count herself as a member of the international law community.
That represents a change in the way the legal profession generally defines international law. And with such change comes confusion, both for the attorneys who find themselves in a broadened international law world and those who have been there all along.
“The biggest challenge for me is trying to figure out where I fit in, where I can be of most use,” said Abduli, who has been in private practice in Milwaukee since she became a lawyer in 2012. “I’m still kind of trying to figure that out, muddling my way through.”
She’s not alone.
In 2013, the Wisconsin State Bar’s International Practice Section Board was the fastest-growing of Wisconsin’s 24 section boards, with membership growing by an estimated 7 percent. That growth was partly due to attorneys’ recognizing that international law affects many aspects of their work, said Jeff Perzan, a transactions attorney and chairman of the international section board.
“We basically do everything that the rest of the bar does,” he said, “but with a little bit of a different twist.”
While Abduli might help people apply for citizenship or defend them against deportation, other international practitioners might focus on employment and taxation, arranging everything from work visas to helping companies assess duty fees and potential penalties. That is part of the reason why diversity within Wisconsin’s international section group has kept pace with its growing membership.
Of the 120 attorneys in the section, half are women. And, like Abduli, a native Macedonian, the section members come from all over the globe, representing various ethnic and religious traditions.
“We have the most diverse board of the state bar,” Perzan said.
But even among those in the mixed bag of the Wisconsin international board, eyebrows still go up when Abduli explains her practice.
“I hear, ‘Why are you here?’” she said. “Then I have to look back at them and say, ‘I’m not really sure, but I’m hoping we can figure this out.’”
Many attorneys still perceive international law in the traditional sense.
“Trademarks, copyrights, international mergers and acquisitions, import/export” said Jennifer Jin, an import/export attorney with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC, Milwaukee, and chairwoman-elect of the international section board.
Of the nearly two dozen attorneys practicing internationally at Jin’s firm, many of them fall under the categories she described. But even if the assignments seem like the same old international approach, Jin said, the practice is evolving.
When her firm, for instance, helped a domestic company transition into Canada, Jin and her colleagues did not focus only on duty fees, which can be costly when moving multimillion-dollar pieces of equipment.
“We had to bring in our tax people,” she said. “We had to bring in our deals people. We brought in immigration, since they were thinking about sending service technicians over the border.”
Human resources even got involved because employees would need to file Canadian and American tax returns.
“There can be a lot of trouble that arises when you’re not looking into all those issues,” Jin said. “They could lead to extra costs, so something that looks like a lucrative business opportunity could be a loss leader.”