Secondment in Germany
With her international roots and focus on global business law, Katja is currently in Germany for a secondment with the Freiburg office of the law firm Friedrich Graf von Westphalen.
While in Germany, she will be attending several international events, including the AIJA Corporate Acquisition and Joint Ventures Seminar in Rotterdam, Netherlands and the European Corporate and Commercial Law Seminar in Munich, Germany.
To stay up-to-date with Katja's secondment, visit this page each week as Katja journals her experiences in Germany. Upon Katja's return in early July, she will utilize her experience in the global business and education law practice of Kegler Brown.
It was great to have Martijn, the Director + Leader of Kegler Brown’s Global Business Practice, be able to join me in Germany for my last week with Friedrich Graf von Westphalen. We had a great turn out for our Piercingthe Corporate Veil presentation that discussed the differences between a corporation and LLC, subsidiary management and discovery and document production obligations.
To celebrate my last week and Martijn being in Germany, a group of us went out to dinner at a restaurant called Gasthaus zum Löwen. The group consisted of the managing partners from FGvW, Dr. Barbara Mayer and Gerhard Manz, Dr. Hendrik Thies and his wife, Martijn, Martijn’s wife and daughter and me and my husband. The conversation was great and consisted of talk around the different firm approaches in Germany and the U.S., politics, travel and more. And Martijn finally got one of his favorite dishes, Spargel (white asparagus).
On my last day at the firm, I brought cake for the entire office, which is a tradition in many German offices. On someone's last day or birthday, “the special person” brings cake for everyone. It is a way or reason for people to stop by that person's office to chat. It's a really nice tradition and shows the true culture of Germany.
I went back to my see my family for the weekend and then flew to Mallorca, an island in the Mediterranean Sea where my husband and I spent four days to relax before we came back to the U.S.
This week was busy with U.S. assignments for Kegler Brown and preparations for Martijn’s and my business lunch + presentation at FGvW about corporate governance, specifically “Piercing the Corporate Veil.”
On the Germany side, I was involved in an interesting research project regarding corporate letterhead requirements worldwide. In addition, I wrote an article for FGvW's website " About Us" section where I talk (in German) about how I ended up as an attorney in Ohio and now in Freiburg for my secondment.
Later in the week, I attended a trial in Waldshut-Tiengen, which is located right on the border of Switzerland. The dynamic of the trial was very interesting. After hearing both side's arguments and one witness for each side, the judge suggested a settlement of the dispute. Judges in Germany are supposed, by Zivilprozessordnung (ZPO - the German federal rules of civil procedure - §278 ZPO -), to help the parties work toward a settlement at any time during the written pretrial or oral trial phase. Neither of the parties agreed to the suggested settlement but an interesting negotiation started and the parties finally, after spending more than an hour and a half negotiating the terms of the settlement, agreed, which the judge then dictated and put on the record.
Since this was my last weekend here, my husband and I explored the city and shopped for souvenirs to take home. We went to Todtnau in the Black Forest and wanted to go hiking and ride an alpine coaster, but unfortunately the weather was pretty bad. It rained and was cold, so we just took the lift up and rode the coaster once. We then drove to Basel in Switzerland for an afternoon stroll along the Rhine River, visited a few exhibits from Art Basel and went through the historic city center with the cathedral.
On Tuesday, I had lunch with a former Kegler Brown intern, Alyssa, who happens to be from Freiburg. During her internship in the spring of 2014, she spent two weeks in our Cleveland office and then two weeks in our Columbus office where she gained some insight into working at a U.S. law firm, Kegler Brown’s summer associate program and patent + international business law. Alyssa is doing her graduate work at Columbia University, so it was a nice surprise to be able to catch up with her in Freiburg.
During the middle of the week, I was busy handling the U.S. side of my work. Among other projects, I was dealing with a California collection issue, which is not that easy from here because of the nine hour time difference. As with any international business, having many real-time conversations can be tricky and the work requires quick and timely responses in order to not lose a day because of the different time zones.
On Friday, I was invited to attend a meeting with the U.S. Consul General, Kevin C. Milas, who has been in Frankfurt for the last three years and is about to finish up his term here in Germany. Gerhard Manz, my boss while I am in Germany, and I enjoyed some original black forest cake with the Consul General and his lovely wife at the Karl Schurz Haus, which is a German American Institute (founded in 1952) that offers cultural events, language courses and more.
Over the weekend we went hiking in a beautiful gorge, named Wutachschlucht, in the Black Forest with my brother and his girlfriend who came to visit from Munich.
This week was filled with a mix of different things. I accompanied one of my colleagues to court where I was able to sit in on a trial. In the U.S. this proceeding would have likely been part of the pretrial proceedings and initial motion practice as no witnesses were being heard and no evidence was being presented. Depending on how the judge rules after this part of the trial, the case either continues into the next stage where evidence can be presented or the judge dismisses the case altogether.
The case involved claims of products liability and suit was filed against the defendant for damages caused by an allegedly defective part that was sold to the plaintiff who then used it regularly in his products. With all parties present, the judge began by asking questions to both the lawyers and parties to get a factual overview of the situation.
Sitting through the session, I got to take note of how different Germany’s legal system is compared to the U.S. legal system:
- The trial was held in the judge’s chambers under fairly informal settings, meaning, the lawyers and the judge did not have to wear their black robes which would have been obligatory in a court room.
- Right away, the judge hinted at certain legal issues she disagreed with, which were already presented during the pre-trial written phase in the months before this session and gave the parties the possibility to convince the judge of their standpoints. In the end, the judge gave the parties the opportunity to write additional briefs to supplement their statements given at the trial. This will help the judge make a decision about whether or not to dismiss the case in such an early stage.
- The order of the proceedings were dictated by the issues the judge raised. Representatives of each party were allowed to speak freely on almost anything (relevant) they wanted to present. It was interesting because the judge only intervened if she had questions, when the parties would interrupt one another or when she wanted to move to a different issue.
- There were no issues with hearsay, which is a big difference to the U.S., and the parties, mainly the corporate representatives, present were able to state their opinion even if it was based on something they were told by their employees or have heard somewhere.
Outside of the courtroom, I was busy preparing content for a presentation about distributors in the U.S., I continued writing my article on “piercing the corporate veil” and prepared for the upcoming business lunch and presentation in Freiburg with my Kegler Brown colleague, Martijn Steger.
We had Thursday off due to the public holiday, Corpus Christi. Better known as Fronleichnam, this day honors the Eucharist (Holy Communion, Lord's Supper), which is important in the Catholic Church and a public holiday in several German states, including Baden-Württemberg where Freiburg is located.
I took Friday off to go on a short vacation with my husband and parents. We travelled to the eastern part of France where we rented a house boat and cruised around the Seille and Saone, two scenic rivers in the Bourgogne. We were able to enjoy the hot weather by jumping off the boat for a swim. Every night we stopped in a beautiful little bay, made a campfire and also stopped at a few tiny French towns where we bought local foods (no escargots/snails or frog legs, even though we could have tried them!).
Since Monday was a holiday, my husband and I went to Heidelberg for a day trip. It is a beautiful city with a historic castle that overlooks the old downtown and has a bridge from 1788 that overlooks the Neckar River and a cathedral.
During the week, I focused on preparing presentations about distributors in the U.S. and piercing the corporate veil, drafting in particular a GmbH (German LLC equivalent) formation deed in German and English between U.S. and German "members/shareholders" that needs to be notarized and registered.
In addition, I was involved in a quick research project regarding a large U.S. university and contractual jurisdiction questions. Utilizing the experience I have from previous Kegler Brown global education projects, I was able to provide the necessary information needed.
Over the weekend we had friends visit us and we took the opportunity to hike through Kaiserstuhl, a beautiful range of hills with a volcanic origin that is well known for its hiking, delicious wines and other sweet Tarte Flambees.
As you can imagine, there are similarities and differences when practicing law in Germany versus in the United States. This week I accompanied a colleague to a deposition at the Landgericht Freiburg, which is the equivalent to the Court of Common Pleas in Ohio. German depositions are quite different than U.S. depositions because the judge is taking the deposition of witnesses and parties to ask (factual) questions about the event. Unlike the U.S., it is not required to have a court reporter because the judge dictates and summarizes what the witness says after every question. The witness and present attorneys/parties can request that certain things be included in the dictation and for the record. Once the judge has completed his or her "fact finding," the attorneys/parties can ask questions, which turns into a more adversarial procedure but the judge still is present and can intervene to protect the witness or clarify the answer. Once the deposition is over, the dictated report will get sent to the parties and they can prepare a written statement if they want to clarify things further.
This week, I also accompanied a FGvW lawyer to a notarization of documents that I helped draft. It was interesting to see- the notary confirms the accuracy of the facts and ensures correct registration at the Commercial Register. This specific case included the name change and also the transfer of all the shares of a German GmbH (LLC equivalent in the U.S.) to another subsidiary. Both of these facts need to be registered and notarized, and the notary read the resolutions to the representatives of the parties to ensure everyone understood the meaning. Attorneys are allowed to be present and sign for their client with a power of attorney, so typically the managing director does not need to attend.
I have been preparing translations and articles for the FGvW Newsletter, which is published weekly.
On Thursday, several associates went to a " Strauße" close by, where they offered local specialties and it was nice to spend some time with colleagues outside of work.
At the end of June, Martijn Steger, global business team leader for Kegler Brown, will be visiting Germany. We are planning a seminar focused on some of the most complex issues arising from "Doing Business in the U.S." and I've started preparations for the event.
In Germany, civil law notaries are very important in the corporate area so I've been involved in drafting documents for notarization by a notary close by and research regarding fees.
Similar to the Women Lawyers' Initiative at Kegler Brown, FGvW has a group of women attorneys that plan events and dinners together. I was able to accompany them to a gathering, and enjoyed hearing their experiences and career advice.
At the end of the week, I participated in a conference call for a dispute regarding a Swiss manufacturer and a German manufacturer where the statute of limitation is close to running out and we needed to schedule experts to enforce the client's rights before the statute of limitations ran. It was very interesting to listen to my German colleague and how he handles a client's expectation, including cross border issues and client communication deadlines.
With a focus on a few projects this week, I accompanied a colleague to a site visit for a construction case and we went through a residential apartment building with a structural engineer appointed by the court to assess the building. I also attended a pre-trial hearing in a commercial dispute before a chamber of the court that specializes in corporate and commercial matters.
Later in the week, I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Martin Diller, one of Germany's leading employment law experts, speak about the "dos and don'ts in non-compete provisions" and he provided insight into how to effectively draft them.
I am continuing to work on client matters for Kegler Brown and receive updates weekly from my peers at the Columbus office of Kegler Brown.
My husband and I took the weekend to explore the area around Freiburg. We went to Colmar, only 50 minutes away, which is a beautiful historic city in the Alsace Region of France. We had delicious Nutella crepes, and other local specialties like Tarte Flambee. It was nice to wander the streets and enjoy the weather. In the evening, we went to a local wine festival. Freiburg and surrounding areas are well-known for their wines, and this festival took place in a residential area that they closed down to put up food stands with local specialties and wines. It also included bands and beer gardens. We closed the weekend by attending a BBQ hosted by a colleague from FGvW.
This week I was fully immersed in multiple projects, including:
- Reviewing a commission contract and drafting a response to a request growing out of the contract
- Preparing an in-depth article with several attorneys in the firm about corporate groups and related issues in different countries.
- Reviewing presentations my colleagues are giving, including one about the law surrounding medical devices. Due to the proximity to Switzerland, a lot of events are in cooperation with Swiss counsel and include comparative law issues.
- FGvW hosted an event titled " TTIP: Curse or Blessing?" where the currently negotiated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a new free trade Agreement between the EU and the U.S., was discussed. The event had a panel of speakers: Kerstin Andreae, member of the Deutschen Bundestag (German parliament) for the Green Party, Dr. Andreas Schwab, representative of the European Parliament, and Dr. Christop Münzer, CEO of Wirtschaftsverbandes Industrieller Unternehmen in Baden e.V. ( Trade Association of Manufacturing Companies in Baden ). It was very interesting for me to hear the arguments from a European standpoint and the lively discussion was very informative.
FGvW focuses on wellness initiatives and, every Tuesday/Thursday afternoon, the firm provides a fruit basket for the employees. It's a nice and healthy way to interact at the firm.
It was a busy week with lots of travel! Monday and Tuesday I was in Stuttgart to meet up with Michael Muench, the German representative for JobsOhio, Andrew Lange from JobsOhio, Kenny McDonald from Columbus 2020, Rick Platt from Heath, Newark, Licking County Port Authority and Ryan Scribner from Pickaway Progress Partnership. We met with potential investors interested in Ohio and discussed their needs ranging from location and real property questions to environmental and setting up a subsidiary in the U.S. We took a quick lunch break in a beautiful, tiny town where we had delicious sandwiches and ice cream.
On Thursday I drove to Rotterdam, Netherlands, to the AIJA Annual Corporate Acquisitions and Joint Ventures Seminar. AIJA, which stands for International Association of Young Lawyers, is the only global association devoted to lawyers and in-house counsel aged 45 and under.
It was great to meet fellow lawyers from Finland, Austria, Switzerland, the UK, Egypt and Netherlands during the seminar. I learned about their office culture, day-to-day work and we exchanged traveling stories. After the seminar concluded on Saturday, I explored the sights in Rotterdam and then drove back to Freiburg on Sunday.
FGvW organized a lunch event that I was able to attend titled "India in Modi Modus: What can Foreign Investors Expect?" The speakers included:
- Mr. M. Sevala Naik, Consul General of India, Munich
- Ms. Ruchi Biyani and Sahil Kanuga, Nishith Desai Associates, Munich & Mumbai
"Objective of the business luncheon is to scrutinize the environment and perspectives for foreign investors in India under Modi [India's first prime minister born after the country's independence]."
Also, this week I worked on translating documents from English into German, and reflected on the seminar from last week in Munich and wrote an article about my experience abroad.
For the third week here, I was able to explore in more depth Freiburg. I had the opportunity to attend the Opera and hike in the Black Forest. I'm looking forward to exploring more of the city while I'm here!
I have been working closely with the FGvW attorneys and this week was involved in research for a lawsuit for damages (civil litigation) after one member of a partnership had to leave the partnership. This case has been ongoing and it was interesting to read through the trial court and appeals process. In addition, I am continuing to help with agreements in English (not necessarily between English-speaking parties) and worked on a non-competition issue.
On Friday, I traveled to Munich to attend the European Commercial and Corporate Law Conference. The conference was combined with the French German Legal Seminar, where I had the opportunity to meet French colleagues. The conference did a great job of translating the information for both languages. I attended the conference with Gerhard Manz and Dr. Barbara Mayer from FGvW and was able to get insights from them about the industry. The topic of the conference was family businesses and the problems that can stem from doing business with family. We had interesting presenters and received insight into Adidas and Puma, two well-known German companies and their underlying family issues that lead to the creation of the two different brands, each lead by one brother. We also received insights about Hermes, one of the larger French companies. I participated in a mediation role play that simulated the issues that can arise between family members in family businesses.
My brother resides in Munich, so I decided to visit him while in town. We were able to catch-up while at the famous Englischer Garten.
My first few days at Friedrich Graf von Westphalen (FGvW) in Freiburg have already been insightful. I have worked on English contracts, drafted a complaint in a transactional matter, participated in a phone conference on an antitrust matter and reviewed documents for a non-competition issue. The group of associates I have connected with at the firm remind me of the Kegler Brown team- ambitious and welcoming. With some time to explore Freiburg, I've been able to take in the scenery. The historic streets add a charming characteristic and several rivers flow throughout the city. This week is different than most because of the Easter holidays, so I traveled to Austria and Liechtenstein to ski and snowboard with my family.