|Profiles in the Law|
As a sole practitioner with a focus in international commercial business, Akana K.J. Ma may be a David among the Goliaths of mega international law firms. He takes the saying of 'it’s who you know' to heart and has built a successful practice by combining international networking with his business law background.
Over the years he has developed a large Rolodex of contacts all around the world, with colleagues in England, France, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, China, Russia and Spain. His slogan is being 'a Portland law firm that can help you do business on six continents.'
Ma’s clients are typically small and mid-sized companies and individuals in the Northwest that are doing business overseas. He provides many of the services of the larger law firms: structuring international joint ventures, compliance with foreign laws and regulations, licensing of technology and software, dealing with export and import laws, establishing foreign offices, protection of trademarks and intellectual property, and international engineering and construction law.
With the global market increasing, international legal services are needed more and more. With this in mind, he co-founded Legal Counsel International in 1998 with Portland attorney Carol Emory. LCI is an alliance of business lawyers that Ma and Emory have collaborated with over many years of international business law. The alliance enables Ma to compete with very large law firms. 'If a sole practitioner collaborates with other sole practitioners with significant expertise then you can bring to bear the appropriate services for the clients’ needs.' Potential members of the alliance must have a proven working relationship with other members coupled with international savvy and do not simply join by paying a fee. The alliance currently has 12 members and is in discussions with several more.
'We are called upon to provide a wide range of services for clients, including quite sophisticated transactions, and we can provide faster services at lower costs, without sacrificing quality or expertise,' Ma adds. A lot of his international legal work can be done with quick phone calls or e-mails and none of the bureaucracy of the larger firms. Although Ma has a varying proficiency in other languages, more and more international business is conducted in English, and the American model of doing business has become popular. This wasn’t the case some 20 years ago, but now language and communication with computer technology has made the world much smaller.
Ma starting making international contacts early in his career. He received his law degree from Boston College School of Law and also studied international law at Harvard Law School. In 1984, he worked as a judicial law clerk for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. The following year he became an associate with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart in Washington, D.C., working in corporate and banking, energy and international law. He gained particular experience in China and Latin America, and developed a federally funded program on how to teach the fundamentals of U.S. export law to diplomats.
In 1990, he became the in-house counsel for Stone & Webster Engineering Corp. in Boston structuring and negotiating domestic and international infrastructure projects. After he moved to Portland about 10 years ago, he continued for a couple of years as contract counsel for Stone & Webster for general corporate and transactional issues dealing with projects worldwide. Ma now has been in private practice in Portland for about seven years. He also serves on the executive committee of the OSB International Law Section and was the chair of the section for 1999 and 2000.
'I always had an interest in world affairs,' Ma says. He went to school in New Jersey, but four generations of his family have lived in Hawaii. Spending a significant portion of his youth in Hawaii gave him an international perspective. 'Throughout my whole life I had been interested in international news, customs and ways of pursuing business. I was sort of an internationalist since childhood.' With international expertise under his belt both as a former associate in a large firm and as an in-house corporate counsel, Ma decided to move to Portland for a better quality of life.
Portland still is 'a little bit of a backwater for international business,' but Ma says, 'I simply wanted to live in a place where I could enjoy the outdoors more.' He spends at least two days a week doing community service with the Mount Hood Ski Patrol and Oregon Search & Rescue, which looks for lost persons. 'Serving Oregon and the general public is a big aspect of what I’m about.' In fact, Ma is training his dog, Jigme, to be a search and rescue dog. 'An important goal for me is to serve the community and continue to grow in all aspects of my personal development.'
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Editor’s note: For more information on the role of an international lawyer, see a column by Akana K. J. Ma at page 31.
© 2002 Linda Campillo