Low Profile Can’t Stop Solo’s International Practice
Posted Sep 30, 2010 2:42 PM CDT
By Rachel M. Zahorsky
It’s nearly 4 a.m. and, with a final call to a client in Angola in south-central Africa, Teresa Farah is about to call it a day. Her sleeping 2-year-old daughter will wake in four hours, and Farah needs to rest so they can spend the morning together before the baby sitter arrives. Late nights are common: Many of Farah’s clients reside several time zones ahead across the Atlantic. But she is sustained by the afternoon breaks she takes at her Arkansas home office to play with her daughter, and by the knowledge that the work she’s doing fosters socioeconomic and humanitarian projects thousands of miles away.
For the past 20 years, Farah’s international law practice has taken her from Washington, D.C., where she mediated disputes between U.S. and Arabic companies, to the United Arab Emirates, where she developed and headed the legal department for The Executive Office, the private office for the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. In 2008, Farah returned stateside to launch a solo firm and raise her daughter near her parents and sister in Fayetteville, Ark.
“I felt that from my 20 years of experience, I had the know-how, connections and resources I needed to start my own practice from home,” says Farah, 41.
But don’t expect to find her on the Internet. The single mother doesn’t have a website, virtual assistant or social media presence to generate business and connect with colleagues. Instead, she relies solely on referrals and carefully screens clients.
“Because my time is limited, I focus my practice on areas of law and international business that I am passionate about with clients of high integrity who have a vision and who are serving the greater good,” Farah says. She is currently outside counsel for an investment management firm that matches high-net-worth individuals and companies to investment platforms designed to fund large-scale projects in areas like medical research, water conservation and infrastructure development. She also teaches international finance as an adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
“When I’m up at 3 or 4 in the morning, I know that a good deal of the funds I’m working with will ultimately provide a road in Kenya or go to large-scale project development in Angola, Rwanda, the Middle East or even the U.S.,” says Farah, who embraces videoconferencing via Skype to connect with foreign-based clients.
But it’s not just Farah’s legal savvy that impresses her clientele.
“Here she was [in Dubai],” says Mitch Kitayama, a California-based financial executive whose investment firm Farah represents, “and she helped manage 25-odd agencies or companies for Sheikh Mohammed, and basically they were all males. So here you are a single young attorney that has to deal in a very male-dominated society, yet she was able to work with all the groups, meet the objectives of the sheikh and be able to get everyone working together. That shows me extraordinary skill, not just from a law standpoint—working with people and getting them motivated, especially if you’re the only female with all males who are heads of companies.”
Kitayama adds, “I can count on one hand the number of lawyers who have this type of skill set.”
Farah’s status as an Arab American enhanced her ability to successfully mediate legal disputes between Arabic and U.S. companies at the National U.S.-Arab Chamber of Commerce early in her career.
“It allows me to have a firm understanding of both cultures,” says the Connecticut-born Farah, who’s lived in Paris, Dubai, Syria and Egypt. “A lot of the time there’s not a dispute with the business issues, but rather cultural issues and the ways the two parties do business.”
She admits a Web presence to allow her growing clientele to find her more easily is imminent, but Farah is firm about managing client expectations from the outset. She also occasionally travels to meet new clients to foster a personalized relationship—a lesson she learned from her overseas work.
“The rest of the world sees this, and the U.S. is coming along in this regard,” Farah says. She recalls one client meeting where she spent an entire day engaged in social conversation that merely touched upon the issue at hand before engaging in serious business discussions the next morning.
“People like to get to know the other party before doing business to build trust, comfort and respect,” she says. “And that goes a long way when doing business globally.”