I have the prejudices of a practitioner: I like a really useful book. Sure, you can write a treatise on delocalized arbitration, but what can you tell me that I can use in my everyday practice? The book of the day, Comparative Law for Spanish-English Speaking Lawyers, is a useful book. I recommend it.
The authors are S.I. Strong, Katia Fach Gómez, and Laura Carballo Piñeiro. Professor Carballo will be familiar to readers of Cartas Blogatorias as a regular contributor. Professor Strong is a long-time friend of Letters Blogatory whose important paper on § 1782 in arbitration I’ve written about before. I only know Professor Fach by reputation, but that reputation is awesome.
The book is written half in English, for Spanish-speaking lawyers seeking a background in the common law world, and half in Spanish, for English-speaking lawyers seeking a background in the civil law world. Now, I have only read half of the book, as I don’t read Spanish, and it wasn’t even the half intended for someone like me. But what I read was enough to judge the usefulness of the book. The topics covered range from the academic—a short legal history that gives a civilian lawyer some of the background that’s just assumed among common lawyers—to the highly concrete—what does an American business letter look like, or a memorandum from an associate to a partner in a law firm? In between, it gives highlights of the substantive and procedural law. The book touches on many of the features of our law that will be most mystifying to lawyers from Latin America. Sure, you may know that our trials are based primarily on oral testimony, but did you know anything about our baroque law of evidence? You knew that our law develops through judicial precedent, not just through legislation, but did you know what US lawyers mean when we refer to “codes” like the Bankruptcy Code or the Internal Revenue Code? I am sure the book is similarly useful for English and American lawyers seeking to understand the rudiments of the legal culture in Latin America.
In my experience, lack of knowledge of other legal systems is one of the main barriers to effective cross-border advocacy. I have felt my own lack of knowledge keenly on many occasions. Hire foreign experts, by all means, but take some time to try to learn the conceptual language of the lawyers you’re working with. The book carries a hefty price tag ($252 on the web), but if your firm will swing it, get a copy—you’ll be glad you did.