In Episode #26, we are joined by Mark McLawhorn. We discuss:
- Mark’s law firm, McLawhorn Legal
- South Carolina’s consolidation as a foreign investment hub
- The importance of judicial clerkships in the American legal system
- Mark’s LLM studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
- The experience of being a Black man in Hong Kong
- Thoughts on our current national moment here in the United States
- Reading, listening, and watching recommendations from:
- Mark – The Social Dilemma (Netflix)
- Fred – Rough Waters Ahead for Vietnam-China Relations, by Huong Le Thu (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)
- Jonathan – “This is the Asian Century: Seven reasons to be optimistic about it”, by Nikkei staff writers (Nikkei Asian Review)
We’ll see you next week for another discussion on the global business environment!
This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.
Fred Rocafort 0:07
Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other, developing and developed nations wax and wane in their importance in the global stage while consumption and interconnectedness both increase, laws and regulations change incessantly, requiring businesses to stay nimble. How do we make sense of it all? Welcome to global law and business hosted by Harris Bricken International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort
Jonathan Bench 0:37
and I’m Jonathan Bench. Every week we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter. We cover the important the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.
Fred Rocafort 1:02
We hope you enjoy today’s podcast. Please connect with us via email and social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.
Today we are delighted to have Mark McLawhorn on our podcast. Mark is the founder of McLawhorn Legal, a law firm based in Columbia, South Carolina, a graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, Mark also holds a master’s in Chinese Business Law from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Mark’s professional trajectory includes clerkships for judges in the South Carolina Court of Appeals, and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He is an experienced litigator who has worked as a federal public defender in the US Attorney’s Office and in private practice. Mark, welcome to global law and business.
Mark McLawhorn 2:04
Thank you for having me. Glad to be here.
Jonathan Bench 2:07
Mark, we’d like to start off by talking about your current work. Could you tell us about McLawhorn legal about your vision for the firm? We know South Carolina has been an investment destination for some foreign companies with BMW perhaps being the best known. Where does your firm fit into this?
Mark McLawhorn 2:21
Yes, so McLawhorn Legal I started earlier this year in 2020. It’s a full service law firm, primarily focusing on litigation services of criminal defense, both federal and state administrative hearings, and also personal injury cases and business litigation. South Carolina is a big international hub for international business. And actually my firm is basically becoming a forefront in a regional leader and international business litigation issues. But I also want my firm to be rooted in the community. I still want to be community center focus on people need access to legal services. But you are right, South Carolina is a of international business, I believe, since 2011 over $19 billion have been invested in South Carolina by outside international firms, and has produced about 42,000 jobs. And more recently, in 2018 a Japanese company that does carbon fiber, they build a factory are starting to build a factory in Greenwood South Carolina invested $600 million. And that’s very interesting, because bring was a very rural county in South Carolina. So yes, chalta has Boeing. BMW is located in Greenville, but a lot of areas in South Carolina, like Samsung is in Newberry County, you have higher, which is current. I think the fact we do now is GE. But that’s another rural part of South Carolina. So you’re seeing a lot of businesses coming to rural areas in the south, especially in South Carolina.
Fred Rocafort 4:02
Mark, going back to some of your earlier experiences. I’d really like to hear more about your experiences as a clerk, especially as someone who didn’t have that experience. The the homage that so many of Justice Ginsburg’s clerks paid to her during during her funeral really highlighted the critical role that clerks play in our, in our judicial system. So perhaps for for those listeners who might not be familiar with the role of clerks, you could begin by explaining what is it that that clerks do exactly. And perhaps also tell us a little bit about your own experiences.
Mark McLawhorn 4:46
So the best way to explain explain what a clerk does in the court system is think about a company. You have a general counsel, and the general counsel advised the company on certain issues. That’s what a law firm is doing in the court system they’re advising the judge on particular legal issues in cases. And they are a trusted advisor, they have a free exchange of ideas with the judge and about him or what the law is, and what the implications of a particular ruling in the case also, I would say that being a law clerk is probably one of the most phenomenal positions you can have coming straight out of law school it’s one of the very few jobs where you fall into so much power. And another thing that’s very influential about law clerks that a lot of people don’t know is very notable is that they can leave their mark on monumental cases, you see the case that United States Supreme Court, majority of all those cases are probably written by law clerks course the judge has to be on board. But all those cases are written by law firms for the most part, and the power that you have as a law clerk, your fitness, the ones Liberty interest, what is a prison case or whether a plaintiff is going to get relief in a multimillion dollar litigation, whereas environmental issue it also law clerks really can play an influential role, whether it’s my lives or dies you see the First Circuit recently, and Boston Marathon case, they’ll return the death conviction of one of the Boston Marathon bombers. And so again, probably law clerks were very instrumental and influential in the decision in coming up with the legal ideas, the legal theory and advising the judge on those particular cases.
Fred Rocafort 6:19
It’s very interesting what what you mentioned about having about a clerks having the opportunity to actually write some of these important decisions. I remember as a law student during one of my during one of my I think it was federal criminal law during that course the the professor, we were going over some some decision. And I’m a little embarrassed to admit I don’t remember which one. But as he as you read a particular passage, he said he told the class that he was pretty confident that that particular section had been written by another one of our, of our professors who had who had clerked for, for someone in the Supreme Court. So that’s, I mean, you’re spot on about that.
Mark McLawhorn 7:06
And you look at Supreme Court, most of the justices on the Supreme Court, or previous law clerks. So it seems like an opportunity to have a clerkship experience can easily translate to a judicial officer, whether it’s a state court or federal court system.
Jonathan Bench 7:25
Mark, your description reminds me of I had a chance to clerk for a judge after my one out summer. And I remember writing, you know, briefing this, this decision for him. And he looked at it and said, You know, this is really good. And he basically adopted it, you know, wholesale, and I was looking at him thinking, Are you nuts? I’ve only had one year of law school, right? There’s no way I can, I can be on point with this. But it did feel like a kind of insane amount of power for someone who, who was so new to the law. You’re right. It was really fun exchange even as a one out. You know, I had a great back and forth with this judge that I was clerking for. And he respected my opinion as much as any seasoned practitioner, I was really kind of impressed and wowed by that. So Mark, turning to your experience in Hong Kong, what made you decide to pursue a degree at the Chinese University? Did you find it was worthwhile? Would you recommend it to recent law school graduates or experienced practitioners?
Mark McLawhorn 8:23
So I ended up in Hong Kong probably by it was kind of just like, kind of coincidental. In the sense, I had had two clerkships, I was finishing up my clerkship in the state court had a clerk showing on the Fifth Circuit, and I had a gap year in between. And this was 2011 2012. As you remember, the economy was in bad shape. During the Great Recession, and I was doing that gap year, I didn’t want to get a job and go to a clerk show, but I want to do something that was worthwhile. And I talked to one of my friends who’s a lawyer in California, but he was in South Carolina at the time. He said, Well, maybe you should think about applying to some LLM programs, and specifically dealing with China. And I think it was very spot on, because at that time, you know, a lot of times, like from particular me, I didn’t know much about China at that particular time, or guarded a robust economic power to do that ahead of time and skewer heavy. And so I applied, I got into the program, I received a full scholarship. And I think it was a great experience where it worked out for me, that was my first time out in the country as an adult. And now I’d say the first time out the country now actually lived in a foreign land for over 11 months and this was a very big thing for me coming from Columbia, South Carolina population to town property was 120,000 people and I’m going to area with 7.6 million people. In a small area, and just seeing the sights and sounds and learning about different cultures eat different food, I had a great appreciation of, of the culture. And one thing I really noticed is Chinese food, the United States is completely different from Chinese food in, you know, that part of in China or Hong Kong. So I actually had an opportunity to actually have authentic Chinese food. But I think was a great experience. For me, I learned a lot about myself, I grew as an individual. And I also understand that you have to look at things from a global perspective and not just from the lens of American, I would definitely recommend doing some type of elegant programming, if you’re in the same situation as me whether you’re a recent grad, or you spirits try to learn more about a particular subject in the law.
Jonathan Bench 10:51
And I believe that’s where you and Fred got acquainted with each other. Is that right?
Mark McLawhorn 10:55
That’s correct. Fred was my classmate. We hit it off instantaneously.
Jonathan Bench 10:59
I’d love to hear about your other classmates that were in your program or a you know, I’m sure it was quite an international mix of people. Were you overall, I mean, what did you learn from your classmates? I feel like when I was in graduate school, I especially in business school, I had so many classmates from all around the world. And it it really enriched my perspective on on myself and on the world. It really was probably the best part of the education process was rubbing shoulders with these these kinds of people.
Mark McLawhorn 11:27
Yeah, so you’re definitely right. I had a train from Italy, Claudio, he’s a classmate and, Fred, you probably remember this. Claudio is about good food, great cappuccino, obviously making his apartment in the Jordan area of Hong Kong, as well, classmates from Turkey, from Poland, I was learning about the different cultures. And that was a time where a lot of upheaval was going on around the world. So during the Arab Spring in the civil war in Syria, so I was just interested in just having talked with people about these different international issues from different countries. At that time, of majority, we had a lot of people asked us from Mainland China. And that was quite interesting, because, like, you’re in Chinese business law course. But you are from Mainland China. But classmates, I still keep in contact with a lot of them and just the friends I met in Hong Kong, I still keep in contact with them on a regular basis. Actually, when I was getting prepared for the Coronavirus, that was about to come to America, talk to one of my friends in Hong Kong. And he was telling me like, make sure you get some masks because we don’t have any Hong Kong, we don’t have any toilet paper. And so I was kind of able to get above the curve in the United States, as regards in regards to mass use, make sure I had ample amount of mass. But again, I probably would have not known that I didn’t make didn’t have that connection in Hong Kong. I actually lived in Hong Kong with school there. So it was just a great experience for me overall.
Fred Rocafort 12:58
I find that in my own life, if you look at my my closest friends, well, basically we’re there there’s a concentration of when that happened then and two of those moments were the program in Hong Kong and also my second year of law school, which I spent studying abroad in London. And as a matter of fact, many of the guests that we’ve had on the podcast are folks that I that I met during during those timeframes or people that I’ve met through, through those, those friends sticking to the subject of Hong Kong. As you know, I obviously lived in Hong Kong for a while and Jonathan that as well. And there are many things we love about the city. I think most people who spend time in Hong Kong come out with favorable impression stuff of the city that said Hong Kong does have its its more negative aspects and in particular, it does struggle with with racism. Most recently, this has manifested itself in hostility against people from Mainland China in a way that really goes beyond the political dimensions of what’s happening in Hong Kong. Now, there’s some of the things that have been said some of the incidents that have been recorded, have a truly racist edge to them. And there’s also been issues with, for example, some of the, the the groups that went to Hong Kong during British times to work with the British administration, people from modern day India, Pakistan, Nepal, they have issues as well. So I’d like to ask for your opinion as a black man. What was your experience like in Hong Kong? And more more to the point? Do you think that perhaps some of the expats that spend time in Hong Kong have something of an idealized vision of of Hong Kong’s acceptance of outsiders now that maybe they’re missing part of the equation?
Mark McLawhorn 15:21
Yeah. So, again, overall, I had a great experience at Hong Kong. I did notice that the people who are from, you know, Southeast Asian countries, are Pakistan or India or African nations, has experienced a lot of racial overtones. While I was there personally I didn’t have a lot of racial experience, but I do remember why particularly dealing with the Hong Kong Police. I was, again, this was near the school. In the Bank of America building. And I remember I was walking on a breezeway, I think I was going to a live poll center, remember correctly. And I was just minding my business, and I get approached, get stopped by two Hong Kong Police. And they ask for my ID immediately, and it ended at Hong Kong, you’re supposed to keep your ID on you. That’s part of rules. And I understood that. But the whole time was there and talking to other classmates and people that never was stopped. ID was never, they was never asked to present their ID. And I was explaining to them, and when it finally was American, their perception totally change. And what I think it had to do during that process, one of my classmates saw me it was kind of embarrassing, because it’s right outside of law school. I’m in this law school, the students know me. I mean, let me see police talking to somebody you think, you know, bad things, maybe somebody committed a crime or whatever. And the student, my fellow student was talking to them in Cantonese, once that conversation is over, and that was it. They didn’t do anything else. Let me go about my business. So two things were was very interesting for me that even though I’m a personal black, is still treating me different from somebody who may be from an African nation because I was American, which was kind of weird to me, because I, you know, grew up in the United States. You know, you see yourself as a black American, you also American, but in Asia and Hong Kong, they just saw me as America didn’t really see me as a black American. But I suspect I was stopped because black and they maybe thought I was African. And, and I will just I don’t know why he stopped me. But I think it probably had to do with maybe whether I was overstaying my visa, or any something to that nature, because of course, I didn’t do anything illegal. But that was kind of a bad experience. I I had there. But overall, I have friends who are very open minded. I met people Hong Kong, were interested in my culture, I did enjoy that time. Facebook was big, but not as big as it is now. And Instagram was just starting off. So I think a lot of people, some people are really interested in my culture, because then they have they saw the things on Facebook are they saw things on Instagram dealing with black culture, or hip hop or President Barack Obama was huge at the time, he was elected as president. So a lot of you had genuine interest in the black experience in America. But I just remember that particular racial incident that was kind of a nerve into town, and the vision of Hong Kong by foreigners, by expats. I think so to a certain degree, I think if you’re a white expat in Hong Kong, you probably see it in a different way as a person of color. Because different people at Hong Kong are used to people who may be from, you know, more from the European countries place to be a British colony metallics, we have a Portuguese colony. So they may have a different, you know, idea of what Hong Kong is, and how they look at foreigners, that look like them. But again, I met some some Africans here and some black Americans there and their outlook was kind of different. Compared to the people who was from like, European countries are people from Australia, who were different skin skin color.
Jonathan Bench 19:21
I grew up in Wisconsin, rural Wisconsin, primarily white community. And when I went to Hong Kong as a 19 year old, one of the most shocking things that I learned is that racism exists in every culture. And I had no idea. I mean, really, I legitimately and, you know, I was I was an ignorant 19 year old, right? I legitimately had no idea that, you know, I mean, I’d learned about the Rwandan genocide. I mean, I knew about things kind of intellectually, but but seeing it in action and seeing how, you know, especially I saw some Chinese people heard them talking about, you know, black Africans are just Black people in general. And I was, and I was kind of I looked at them and my jaw dropped. And I’m like, I’m like, What are you even saying? I mean, it doesn’t, you know, racism has no place in the world at all. But it was, it was shocking for me as a white person to kind of have my eyes open and see, like, oh, this is really a global problem. This is not just a problem in the US. And I think wherever it is a problem, we have to address it. And we have to, you know, we have to open people’s eyes and say, Hey, this people are people, the world around, it doesn’t matter if they’re ethnically Chinese, Chinese minorities, wherever they come from in the world, you know, so there’s something I feel very passionate about, for many years. But, but that was my time in Asia, that really opened my eyes up to it. So if we can stick on this topic a little bit Mark, we’d like to focus on what’s going on in the US. You know, as a black lawyer in the American South, what is your view on the current movement that we’re living in as a nation? I mean, what are you optimistic about? What are you not optimistic about? And and then talking about our legal community, what, what can we really do to help bring about a better future?
Mark McLawhorn 21:00
I’m very optimistic about the movement going on in the United States. I’m encouraged about the new civil rights movement in this country. The issues that you’re seeing on TV are not new issues. But what’s new is people attitudes are starting to change more and more in the black community. You know, police brutality has been a thing for a long, long, long time. I remember studying civil rights class in college, we had this professor by the name of Cleveland Sellers who was a very inspiring, monumental civil rights leader in soccer, lon, and his son. He’s one of the commentators on CNN Bakari Sellers. He was explaining to us about civil rights movements. But I’m very encouraged about the images I’ve seen on TV, because you see, a lot of people protesting, and majority of them are not people of color. There are a lot of white people out here protesting that is a very stark contrast, from what what was seen during the Civil Rights Movement, civil rights movement was predominantly African Americans. And then of course, you do have some people who were not African American to help out. But I think a majority, what you’ve seen on TV now is a lot of protesters who are white, and that radio show that has been a monumental shift of the nation’s conscious when it comes to these human rights issue about police brutality. So overall, I’m optimistic but what I’m not optimistic about is having reform on the national level of laws. I think that will only change. You have the politicians no matter their Democrat or Republican, finally, good. We’ll look at this as a human rights issue. And if the lawmakers can come together and have a robust criminal justice bill, particularly done on police brutality, reforming police in America, do not be very optimistic aware our country can go. But the one thing that needs to be looked at in any legislation is looking at the defense of qualified immunity. Maybe that should be looked at their heart. And also, I think there needs to be more funding for community policing. Community Policing was very big about teen of 18 years ago, I used to hear about it all the time. I don’t hear about it so much. And I know he was talking about defunding the police. I think nobody’s really, for actually having no law enforcing, but I believe that the resources need to be put into different different areas where I can help people such as social workers, such as after school tutors, such as maybe some job placement since I think the legal community can do a lot of stuff. For this particular movement in America. What I did personally was with when the George Floydd protests started our visit at some of the people who are peacefully protesting pro bono, these people out here are out here, excersicing their first civil right Try to make society a better place. That’s one thing a lawyercan do is represent these people pro bono, they may not have the couple thousand dollars representational ICT charge, do it pro bono at the current lawyers can go out and do voter registration drives, they can work as poll watchers in this election. They can also educate themselves on implicit bias. A lot of people did not understand what implicit bias was a couple years ago, and it’s basically you have biases that you’re not aware of. And you just you just react because you have that bias. And I think as lawyers in the judicial system, and the police force come together has some mandated training, what is value of local government, our general counsel artists or your particular Bar Association? I think you’re starting to get to some of the root of these issues having permeated American society.
Fred Rocafort 24:47
This has been a really, really fascinating conversation. Obviously, it’s always good to catch up. But before before we let you go, we would like to ask if you have any recommendations For our listeners, any books, any YouTube videos, any anything you’re, you’re streaming on Netflix or Amazon. Anything at all, please, please, please share.
Mark McLawhorn 25:12
Okay. So my recommendation would be this, the Netflix series called Social Dilemma. It deals with social media and how social media has an impact on our everyday life, whether it’s from looking at pictures, our photos, like he dealt with family, friends, our political discourse, but it also shows you the negative side of social media, the addictive nature of it, how it controls some of your thoughts and your self esteem. I think it’d be it’s a fascinating Netflix series. I think everybody should watch it. Because if I remember correctly, I think it’s over 2 billion people on Facebook. And so it’s gonna fake probably each and every one of us in some either direct or indirect way, it’s just fascinating. Just to kind of understand, like the neuroscience in the issues with social media hockey be a force for good, but also it can be a force, they may have some negative implications on society long term.
Fred Rocafort 26:08
We’ll definitely keep an eye out for that. Jonathan, what about you? What do you have for us?
Jonathan Bench 26:14
I read an article this week in Nikkei Asia that used to be in the Nikkei Asian review, they just rebranded a couple of days ago. It’s called This is the Asian Century, Seven Reasons to be Optimistic about it. And a couple I pulled a couple quotes from this conductor like quite a bit. And this is this article is a compilation of thoughts from experts all around the world, primarily focused on Asia. But but the opening paragraph says this is not the first Asian century. According to the late economic historian Angus Madison, Asia accounted for more than half of world economic output for 18 of the last 20 centuries. So the region’s growing cloud in the world economy is a restoration, not a revolution. And then kind of the the question that overrides the article is will Asia fill the gap in what’s going on in the world? So it looks at COVID demographic changes climate change, democracy versus authoritarianism, de-globalization, US v China polarization and technology. So very interesting categories and thoughts from really experts on really on both sides of that of that question is is Asia able and willing to fill this gap the same way that Europe dominated for so long? And then the US dominated for so long? And now what’s going to happen this century? So very interesting article, not a super long read, but but deep enough that you know, you can sip your cup of coffee over it while you’re reading it. Fred, what about you?
Fred Rocafort 27:43
So my recommendation this week is an excellent article about Vietnam China relations, titled Rough Waters Ahead for Vietnam China relations, if you want the summarized version of the of the report, it was written by Huong Le Thu, I’m sure I didn’t pronounce that correctly. So my apologies. Published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, you can find it online and you can also find a link to it on my Twitter feed at @Rocafort_Fred, if you are not following me yet. Maybe this is a good time to start doing so. And with that, I would like to thank Mark once again for for being a guest. It was a it was a real pleasure. And there are definitely a few threads left from this conversation that we’ll want to pull on at a later date. So we look forward to having you back on on global on business Mark.
Mark McLawhorn 28:47
Thank you for having me. It’s been a great pleasure.
Jonathan Bench 28:52
We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. We look forward to connecting with you on social media to continue discussing developments in global law and business. and tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai