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Protect Your Firm from International Travel Risks

Operating an international firm can be a risky endeavor, especially given the volatile political and security environments in many countries. 

Michael E. Burke

But there are several ways to mitigate those risks while still supporting and growing your international operations.


Attorney travel poses multiple risks to an attorney and their firm. The most obvious risk is to the physical safety of the traveling attorney. In some cases, firms restrict or prohibit travel to high-risk jurisdictions, which are often identified by current news stories. Firms also can link their go/no-go travel decisions to the current set of countries subject to a U.S. Department of State travel warning. Such policies, however, need to be flexible in multiple directions.

Firms and attorneys can take actions to reduce physical risk in high-risk areas. They should also consider requiring certain mitigation efforts that will allow an attorney to travel to such places. At the same time, what should a firm do if, for example, violent protests break out in a location thought to be “safe?”

Attorneys should be encouraged, and perhaps offered training, to stay aware of their surroundings in any jurisdiction, keep current on local news and avoid spontaneous large public gatherings.


Firms must also consider whether an attorney’s planned activities in a country are consistent with relevant immigration laws and regulations. We’ve all been asked the purpose of our visit when we pass through immigration control. If traveling for vacation, the answer to such a question is apparent. The answer may be less apparent for business development-related travel.

In some jurisdictions, business travel does not require a visa or any other specific approval so long as the lawyer in question is not being paid inside that jurisdiction — this is usually the case with payments of legal fees to U.S.-based firms. Other countries require a visa to enter in connection with any kind of business travel.

It’s important for the firm and for the lawyer to get these questions right, not the least because of potential reputational damage.


Law firm management should be sure to review items an attorney takes on their international trip and clearly discuss the requirements to keep these items under control and secure. Questions to consider are:

  • Is a hotel safe secure enough to store a laptop?
  • Does a laptop’s encryption capacity trigger any concerns?
  • What kinds of files should be made available when an attorney accesses a firm’s system from abroad?

Travel poses a threat to a firm’s information technology resources. A firm’s IT security program should block remote access from internet service providers (ISPs) in jurisdictions frequently used by threat actors. ISPs in Ireland, Belgium and the Netherlands are frequently used to launch cyberattacks around the world and are among the most common locations visited by U.S. lawyers. Cutting off a traveling lawyer from remote access isn’t a viable solution, so firms should develop a procedure on unblocking certain ISPs.

Management can work with their IT team to unblock ISPs by 1) identifying the specific ISP that the attorney will use, such as in a hotel, and 2) unblocking such ISP for a defined period. Firms can also enable a “kill switch” on attorneys’ mobile devices (or download an app that can do so), so information can be erased and access restricted in case the mobile device is lost or stolen. It is important to train attorneys on when and how to use such a kill switch.

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International travel can raise questions related to a firm’s health insurance plans, including questions from attorneys who think their plan is effective outside of the United States. Firms need to understand the coverage of the health plans used by their lawyers, and whether such plans offer any coverage or benefit outside of the United States, keeping in mind that most won’t extend coverage past this nation’s borders. Because of that limitation, firms might consider supplemental options such as medical evacuation coverage to protect traveling attorneys.

Professional liability insurers take an interest in whether a firm’s attorneys venture outside of the United States. Firms are asked each year to identify: 1) the non-U.S. jurisdictions to which they have traveled in the current year, and 2) where they expect to travel in the upcoming year. A firm’s attorneys should be required to respond to these surveys.


Coordinating international travel, especially business development-related travel, among multiple attorneys can be a manageable challenge. Firms should minimize the potential for attorneys to step on another’s toes (or at least contacts) because of uncoordinated travel. Some firms have created location-specific “desks” that are used to monitor and manage business development travel to that area. Other firms take much more of a hands-off approach.

To best leverage international business development travel for the firm, attorneys should disclose upcoming international travel plans. In practice, this kind of notice often prompts other attorneys to suggest contacts and meetings. Post-travel reviews, similarly, are important to gauge the effectiveness of such travel and set relevant follow-up actions and activities.

At the end of the day, firms best serve their attorneys and clients when they effectively and efficiently identify, understand and mitigate the risks associated with a robust international practice.