By Michael Petro  |  Buffalo Law Journal  |  8/17/15

International law practice at Phillips Lytle gets a boost

Laws regulating international business and trade and customs have become an increasingly active and complicated area, and attorney Doug Dimitroff of Phillips Lytle LLP says that locally and throughout the Buffalo-based law firm’s footprint, he’s seeing more clients doing business in other countries and subsequently needing legal help.

There’s a constant need for expertise in international business law, said Dimitroff, co-team leader of the firm’s Canadian cross-border practice.

The recent addition of attorney Jon Yormick helps meet that need, he said. Yormick, who has two decades of experience in an international law practice, joined the firm in June as special counsel.

“For clients doing business abroad, a lot of times they’re not focused on what the problems could be, and sometimes it’s an uphill battle to explain to business folks where they need to be thinking about potential risks and to be proactive about it,” said Dimitroff, who also leads the firm’s telecommunications team. “They have their everyday busy schedules and priorities that don’t always focus on something that simply hasn’t been a problem for them in the past. There’s a balance there that needs to be struck. So having someone, particularly with Jon’s expertise, to boil it down to the basics of where they should be focused and where they should be interested is of great value for a company.”

Many attorneys involved in this niche are in some of the biggest U.S. cities. On the East Coast, that means they’re usually part of a New York City or Washington, D.C., practice, Yormick said. At Phillips Lytle, he’ll work with clients and attorneys with import- and export-related issues including customs, compliance investigations, penalties, export controls and sanctions.

“We live in an atmosphere of regulatory enforcement and we see that across the board with sanctions and customs and export controls, so I am trying to assist clients with compliance upfront, whether that means contract language — including regulatory language on your commercial invoice every time you export something — compliance policies and internal training,” he said.

The state and federal governments have been promoting a series of initiatives to encourage U.S. entities to do business abroad. At the same time, the U.S. Department of Commerce is working to get companies from outside the United States to do more business here. The result has been lots of questions and unforeseen issues, according to Dimitroff.

“These businesses are thinking, ‘What’s the market like abroad and what’s the market like in the U.S. if you’re not from the U.S.?’ My opinion is that those efforts have paid off in more activity but therefore also result in risks that haven’t been thought through,” he said.

That’s where Yormick comes into the picture. He said he’s given a number of presentations on export controls and government initiatives to increase exports but warns that it must be done by entities in a way in which the rules are clearly understood and compliance issues satisfied.

Other focus areas for him include risks for Canadian companies that are non-resident importers to the United States. Often they aren’t up to speed on customs regulations and other laws, so these companies are at risk of getting hit with penalties and requests for information, Yormick said.

He also represents U.S. and Canadian companies on issues related to the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.

“A lot of companies going in both directions, north and south, that impact the U.S./Canadian border and the U.S./Mexican border just don’t have a good understanding of NAFTA and Country of Origin rules, which can be complex,” he said.

For two years there has been export control reform, which provides companies greater opportunities and more flexibility regarding regulations to export goods with additional European and other allied countries, he added.

He also has handled joint venture or acquisition transactions where there is successor liability, which can present problems for the purchaser of a company whose predecessor may have had liability. There are a number of penalty enforcement actions and settlements that can come from that successor liability, Yormick said, adding, “It’s all about what questions to ask and how to ask those questions early on in that due diligence process.”

He also advises companies on sanctions, especially when dealing with Russian entities and in the oil sector. He said these are complex matters that usually come down to this: Who can you do business with?

“There’s been a lot of sanctions activity, as we all know, whether it’s Russia, Cuba or Iran,” Yormick said. “I advise companies on whether their European subsidiaries and affiliates can continue to do business with Russian companies. Certainly, everyone’s interest is piqued now about Cuba and Iran — what you can and cannot do. And that’s ever-changing. That’s basically an exercise in current affairs.”

He said he expects to be working with Phillip Lytle’s Washington, D.C., office on many of these issues. And he appreciates the firm’s reach into Canada and across New York state, with offices in New York City, Albany, Garden City and Rochester.

When he managed his own firm, the Law Offices of Jon P. Yormick, he worked out of both Buffalo and Cleveland. At this time, he said he’s unsure what the future holds for his Ohio presence.

“One of the attractions to Phillips Lytle is that they have that reach, and when I have clients asking me about intellectual property issues and business structuring and business advice, those are things that I don’t handle,” he said. “So having the firm’s resources is very helpful to my practice and serving my clients.”

Editor’s note: Read more about international law, particularly immigration and crossborder law, in next week’s Special Report.