In verbal communication language is the biggest challenge. It does happen very often that a foreign language is the common communication language of the client and the lawyer but that language is a “foreign language” to both of them. I am communicating with clients from Germany, Italy, Qatar, Korea, Israel and our common language is English. For sure our vocabulary is limited, compared to our mother tongues and sometimes we give different meanings to the very same word. We, therefore, have to search for the real meaning of what the client is saying. What I do is to ask open ended questions to confirm that I really understand the client’s needs correctly. I push the client to tell me the story from the very beginning and spend really more time with patience, compared to a local client, to understand the whole picture. Language is a barrier not only in client/lawyer communication but also in business communication of both parties. Sometimes we see that a client and the other party, with total good faith, believe that they agree on something but actually they both mean different things. So actually there is no agreement. Therefore a deal lawyer has to search for the real meaning of not only what the client is saying but also what the other party is saying.
Recently, a few months ago we were approached by a Korean Company seeking legal assistance in a specific matter. Their investment in Turkey is a partnership with some local Turkish Companies so there are Turkish members on the board of the Company but the majority of the shares and therefore the majority of the seats on the board belong to the Koreans. At first we had a meeting with the Korean clients and during the meeting we were very confident that we understood the problem clearly and that we had the ability to provide them with an effective solution. We were told that they were very much satisfied and the solution we were proposing was also exactly what the Turkish partners were looking for. Later on one of the Turkish board members who was informed about our meeting with the Korean clients called me on the phone and told me totally a different story. We were very much confused and realised that there was almost no communication between the Koreans and their local partners. So we proposed to meet with the Turkish and Korean parties together and what we saw was that some of the Turkish board members did not speak a word of English, they only spoke Turkish. The other Turkish board members spoke some English, but could not be described as fluent and it was this group who had taken on the task of translating what the Koreans were saying for the non-English speakers. Naturally the result was that nobody understood anybody properly but all sides believed that they were in agreement.