“You tend to go around thinking and comparing a lot when you live in another country”, says Anders Permeus, who has a law degree from the University of Stockholm, a Master in German law from the University of Heidelberg, and specializes in IT law. He is an attorney at the Stockholm office of the Scandinavian firm Elvang & Partners.
Anders Permeus says that his knowledge of the German language as well as German culture and history helps him when working with lawyers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. “It adds perspective and you understand certain things better if you understand Germany’s history. If you for example look at the history of the University of Heidelberg, you understand how it was possible to break down its intellectuals in the 1930’s, then you can do a better job in Germany,” he says.
It was during a trip around Europe by train that he got hooked on German, a language he already knew from school and from the fact that his mother was a German teacher. He visited Vienna and fell in love with the city, and soon returned to study German ther for a summer. A professor at Stockholm University, where he studied law, recommended him for a semester in Kiel, studying competitive law and EU law, which eventually led him to Heidelberg.
Back in Stockholm he began to work with a firm that provided legal support for buyers of large mission critical IT-systems, sometimes for American clients. This gave him a practical understanding of American law in a Swedish context. Business slowed down when the IT-bubble burst, and he says that although it was often fun to work with IT startups, he sometimes felt as if the entrepreneurs took the investors for a ride. “We were often the most skeptical parties in the discussions, but we were neither economists nor entrepreneurs,” he says.
As a lawyer, he thrives on conflicts, but he also thinks it’s in everybody’s interest to fight it out in front of a judge. “The day you stop processing, people will write wore contracts,” he says. “If a negotiation is not tough, and if the parties don’t push their interest, you will end up having a larger conflict down the line. I cringe when the thing goes too smoothly. It’s better to wrestle with it now, so that we have really clear contracts for the day when you need to go to court,” he adds.
“Here there is a cultural difference between Sweden and America. In Sweden, the lawyers are many times called in late, as they are seen as a necessary evil, while in the U.S. they are brought in early on. But this is changing and lawyers are now often seen as a kind of insurance, a way to cover your back.”
Is there anything an American seeking legal advice in Sweden should be aware of?
”There is a key difference between Swedish and U.S. contract law, and that is that you in Sweden can be legally bound by your offer in a negotiation, while in the U.S., your are only bound by the final and agreed upon offer. Americans therefore often specify that a letter of intent should not be binding, and state explicitly that the contract should be considered binding until it is signed.”
Another issue that can create confusion and conflicts is that Swedish companies often have a flat organization without a clear delineation of responsibility, while American’s often have a strict hierarchy that states who has the right to do what.
“This can create problems when you are trying to find out who took a certain decision. Was the person who decided authorized to make that decision? But this seldom leads to legal conflicts.”
”Americans, like the Germans are meticulous and ask for everything to be put on paper. They want to know who can do what, and don’t like when it’s loosely organized.”