English is now universally accepted as the language of business, spoken by businesspeople – and lawyers – worldwide. UK and US lawyers can cheerfully travel the world, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be the ones needing a dictionary.
But beware. A cautionary tale told to Tulkinghorn last week illustrates that those emails and faxes in perfect English may be hiding the truth.
A corporate partner in a mid-sized City firm was involved in a deal with a Japanese company, and therefore a Japanese lawyer. The UK partner was pleased to receive frequent updates by fax, all in impeccable English. One day he decided it was time to have a chat with his opposite number in Japan and so picked up the phone. On announcing who he was, our London lawyer was startled to hear a screech from Japan, a thud as the receiver was thrown down and a bang as the office door closed all those thousands of miles away.
It turned out that the Japanese lawyer in question had been having his faxes translated and couldn’t speak a word of English.
Tulkinghorn hopes that the shame of being found out didn’t make him do the honourable thing.