Managing Legal Risks When You Meet Abroad

By: George Constantine

From registering your meeting with local authorities to negotiating special contract provisions and protecting your intellectual property, overseas meetings raise an array of legal issues that you should consider in planning the event. Here are five areas where you'll need to manage your risk. [Titled "Safe Passage" in the print edition.]

As associations increase their activity outside the United States, the potential legal risk also increases. If you're looking to host a conference overseas, you may encounter an array of legal issues unique to the destination. Fortunately, the risks can be managed with assistance of legal counsel and other expert advisors. Here are five issues to consider before taking your meeting abroad.

  1. Determine whether the conference will implicate local "doing business" and tax registration and payment requirements. At the outset, you'll need to confirm the duration of the conference; length of time that your employees will be "on the ground" for conference-related activities; whether you will use an outside contractor for planning and logistics; and whether due diligence has been conducted on third parties before engagement. A one-off conference in a non-U.S. location may not be enough to trigger local registration and payment rules, but a sustained or ongoing presence in a particular locale might.
  2. Pay close attention to contracts with local venues and other meeting services providers to ensure that you negotiate favorable terms and that your organization is protected under U.S. law (as well as under local laws, as applicable). Questions about choice of law and venue for disputes are key in international contracts, as are provisions addressing apportionment of liability and indemnification.
  3. Ensure that your intellectual property is protected. The rest of the world (for the most part) is not like the United States where trademarks are concerned: Mere use of a name or a logo outside the U.S. generally does not confer trademark rights. Think about filing for protection of your marks in other countries at an early stage of your global growth to limit future problems.
  4. Study up on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Justice Department has pursued claims of FCPA violations vigorously in recent years, and associations are within its scope. Similarly, the recently enacted United Kingdom Bribery Act is broad and presents a risk to associations doing business in the UK or that have a "nexus" to the UK. You can manage these risks through contract and careful due diligence of your contractors.
  5. Do not overlook insurance coverage. Your association's current policies may not extend to international claims without a specific endorsement.

George Constantine is a partner with Venable LLP in Washington, DC. Email: [email protected]

George Constantine