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The View from Hong Kong

During a recent business trip to Hong Kong, I was reminded of the words of wisdom offered by my property professor in my first year of law school. Professor Jones would sternly remind his students that to practice property law the right way, the lawyer always needed to “walk the [expletive omitted] land.” I suspect that Professor Jones used an expletive just to make sure that we remembered his advice. While I did not become a property lawyer, I remember Professor Jones’ advice and now apply it to my international labor law practice.

To do business around the world, you have to walk the workplace in every location. Whether in China or elsewhere, video conferences and emails can create a false sense of security regarding the situation on the ground. Without making visits to each location, someone wishing to establish operations in China might believe that labor strikes never happen just because they’re illegal. Spend some time in China and you’ll come to understand that labor strikes are actually frequent occurrences. The causes of these strikes are often the conditions in the workplace. To know whether conditions in a workplace are such that those conditions might inspire one of these strikes, one needs to be there.

Professor Jones liked to talk about when he was a young associate working on a land deal and he was the only one who went out and actually walked the land, he found a fence that no one else had discovered. This fence eventually led to the discovery of an adverse claim over part of the land. When setting up non-U.S. operations, making sure that your company does its due diligence actually on site might raise questions you wouldn’t even have known to ask otherwise. Bottom line, when you are establishing or conducting business overseas, you really need to walk the workplace and watch out for fences.

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.