A Road Less
Solo Practice of
WSBA INTERNATIONAL PRACTICE
by Paul Eklund
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
— Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”
In his book The Road Less Traveled, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck advocated choosing a “less traveled” life path, marked by service to others through the building of community. Might we, as at- torneys, realistically aspire to a “road less traveled”? Specifically, is there a way to enjoy the benefits of a
solo international practice, while also providing the competence, synergy, and teamwork necessary to represent clients
who do business abroad?
I have practiced law more than a quarter-century (as a solo
practitioner and corporate counsel) in both Hawaii and Washington. My membership in the international practice section
(IPS) of both bars has been a primary source for information,
legal updates, creative ideas, and best of all, friendships and
networking, facilitating my less-traveled career path.
Learning the Ropes, Building Relationships
My first international litigation related to a telecommunications dispute between U.S. and Thai companies. An early pioneer of cable TV in King County, William Monson founded
CTVC of Hawaii and Clearview International. Thai officials
approached Monson in the mid-1980s about developing cable
TV in Bangkok. He partnered with Thaksin Shinawatra, then
an entrepreneur and officer in the Bangkok Police department.
A few years into the relationship, a partnership dispute
erupted. One of Monson’s attorneys commenced an initial
lawsuit. Shinawatra’s lawyers brought a motion to dismiss on
jurisdictional grounds. I was one of the attorneys representing Monson.
After a protracted jurisdictional battle, Monson’s case was
dismissed in 1994. Shinawatra was appointed foreign minis-
ter of Thailand in December 1994. In 1996, Division I of the
Washington Court of Appeals ruled that Washington did
not have personal jurisdiction over Shinawatra or his com-
panies (see CTVC of Hawaii, Ltd v. Shinawatra, 82 Wn. App.
699 (1996)). Monson filed lawsuits in Thailand through Thai
counsel. I became in-house counsel for Monson’s companies
in Honolulu, traveling frequently to Bangkok to manage the
litigation against Shinawatra and his companies.
The Shinawatra-Monson cases heard in Bangkok courts
were affected by the ever-changing political landscape in
Thailand. In 2001, Shinawatra became prime minister of
Thailand, serving until 2006, when he was removed by a
military coup. His “immunity,” though not raised as a legal
defense, was a political and practical reality. Shinawatra vigorously opposed jurisdiction in Washington state. On the
other hand, Monson faced overwhelming odds in seeking a
fair trial in Thai courts.
The Shinawatra matter provided me with a tutorial on the
challenges of jurisdiction in disputes involving cross-border
transactions and a deep appreciation for the need for international forums to resolve them.
A few key practice tips for developing a successful solo international legal practice are to develop your areas of expertise,
build your reputation, and leverage the expertise of other
practitioners — for which the IPS provides a great forum.
If you represent a Washington business in an international
transaction, do not leave jurisdiction to chance. Ditto with
arranging a dispute resolution mechanism (e.g., arbitration)
and agreeing on other jurisdictional issues (e.g., choice of law,
Two children helped by Lightshine, an organization cofounded by Paul Eklund to provide
education for Peruvian orphans. Photo by Paul Eklund.