Sidebar: The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law
November 5, 2015
Martijn Steger ’83 spent his first eight years living in Indonesia with his Dutch mother and American father, and that early exposure to three very different cultures has had a lasting impact.
In September, Steger celebrated his 30th anniversary working at Columbus law firm Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter, where he is a partner and leads the firm’s global business practice.Kegler Brown’s global business practice has grown dramatically over the years as U.S.-based companies and universities have expanded into global markets, and foreign direct investment in the U.S. has risen significantly.
“I think spending my formative years in such a multicultural environment just made me curious about the world in a way that helped guide me to a global business law practice,” he said.
After earning an undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from Miami University in 1978, Steger studied as a Rotary International graduate fellow at the University of Sheffield Faculty of Law in the United Kingdom, and then decided to attend law school at Ohio State.
From day one of law school, Steger had no doubt that he wanted to study international law, or, as it is referred to now, global business law.
“I’ve always been a planner and a strategist. I approached going into law the same way and thought about what I wanted my career to look like,” he said. “I realized that I love working with people from other cultures. That’s probably driven by the fact that I grew up in a household that had three cultures in it. So I’ve always been curious about how people with different upbringings look at the world.”
A self-described “inveterate researcher,” Steger read everything he could about global business law, and he noticed that there were a number of companies in Ohio doing work across international borders in the early 1980s, but it seemed like their lawyers were located primarily on the coasts. “I hatched this idea: ‘Why don’t we start a global law practice here?’” he said.
Within a few years, he did. After graduating from law school, Steger clerked for the late Judge John Holschuh of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, and the judge encouraged him to pursue his passion of practicing law on a more international scale. After his clerkship, Steger began interviewing with law firms around Columbus, and during his interviews, he floated his idea of bringing a global business law practice to Columbus.
“A number of people said to me that they thought it was a bad idea because Columbus was not all that global,” he explained. “And I said, ‘But I think there’s an opportunity there. I think the world is going to become more interconnected and there are business legal services that could be provided here, but are being provided elsewhere. We can build the expertise here.’”
One law firm, Kegler Brown, agreed with Steger and told him: “That’s a great idea. We’ll help you build it.”
Fortunately for Steger and his firm, the world has, in fact, become much more interconnected in the last 30 years—including some ways he could never have predicted. And that hyper connectivity has led to significantly more global trade opportunities.
“There has been an explosion of private international law—tax treaties, trade deals between countries or regional trade deals to open up markets, reduce tariffs and nontariff trade barriers,” he explained, “and U.S. businesses have embraced the concept of the diversification of their markets in order to be competitive.”
According to Steger, some of the most dynamic markets in terms of global business right now include India, Vietnam, the Philippines, Mexico, Panama, the U.K., Germany, and Africa. In a typical year, he travels to seven or eight different countries for business—so far this year, he has been to Canada, England, Scotland, Italy, Germany, China, Singapore, and Indonesia.
“Almost every trip I take involves three aspects: meeting with existing clients, meeting with potential clients, and doing something else that is a key part of the trip, such as giving a presentation, or helping an economic development organization disseminate information on why Ohio is a good place for a company to invest,” he said.
As the global business law section continues to grow at Kegler Brown (in any given month, there are seven or eight lawyers who spend the majority of their time working on global business), Steger takes pride in mentoring younger lawyers who want to specialize in the area.
“I’ve been extremely fortunate. I am doing, and have been doing for many years, exactly what I planned and hoped to do,” he said. “Everybody says that as you think about your career, it’s important to build networks. My view is that idea is only half of the truth. The more important thing is to help other people build their networks and help make connections for other people.” Steger continues to connect people who can help each other, in the U.S. and around the world.