Peace Corps vet specializes in international law

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Richard Goetz, International Practice Group Leader with Dykema Gossett in Detroit, didn’t learn his international expertise just from books. He learned it from living and working around the world over several decades.

A stint in the Peace Corps started Goetz down this path, after he completed undergraduate studies in history, with a minor in chemistry, at Southern Illinois University.

It was during his freshman year that President John F. Kennedy proposed the launch of the Peace Corps.

“I was fascinated by the idea of helping people in other parts of the world improve their lives and promised myself that, if and when I graduated, I would apply,” Goetz says. “When I did graduate after working my way through school, I felt very fortunate and wanted to do something to share my good fortune with others and applied.

“To my surprise, I was soon accepted for training for a rural community development program in Ecuador. Once I found ways that I could contribute effectively, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience and extended my stay for a third year to continue. I met my wife in Ecuador and we married when I left the Peace Corps.”

Goetz, who had taken one pre-law course as an undergrad, thought he had discovered a way to combine his love of history with his desire to have an impact on the present.

“So, when I left the Peace Corps after three years in Ecuador, I decided to try law school. After the initial shock wore off, I enjoyed it and the last 39 years have flown by.”

Goetz — who had various childhood career goals, including baseball player, rancher, mechanical engineer and teacher — earned his degree from the University of Illinois College of Law, where in 2007 he was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

He had a 32-year career culminating as Associate General Counsel-International with Ford Motor Co.

He was instrumental in establishing operations in China, India, Korea, Russia and Eastern Europe, had primary responsibility for legal matters in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, Russia, and Canada, and spent 10 years as Ford’s director of legal affairs in Caracas, Venezuela.

Now he counsels clients in a broad range of inbound and outbound international investment, distribution and sourcing activities, in countries around the globe, including Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia.
While he has enjoyed most areas of legal practice, working in international law offers unique and varied challenges, he says.

“Some have described it as playing chess in three dimensions. It requires lawyers to understand and work with different cultures and different legal, political and, sometimes, economic systems to create clear and binding agreements and resolve disputes. International practice, especially in emerging markets, demands thinking over the horizon, anticipating not just the current state of the law in the new market but also where a rapidly evolving legal and political environment may take it during the life of the agreement or term of the investment. It also provides the opportunity to travel and learn about other countries and people.”
Different cultures have brought interesting challenges.

When delays in the interbank transfer of funds to acquire a state owned company in Eastern Europe ran into hours and growing annoyance of several government ministers at the closing, Goetz suggested they adjourn to the post-closing banquet and drink the champagne before it got warm.

The money arrived at the same time as the third course. In referring to the protracted nature of litigation in their country, Indian lawyers may refer to it as karma, “If you can’t resolve it in this life, you will in your next life.”

The Chicago native certainly traveled far from his roots growing up on a farm near the small town of Belvidere in northern Illinois.

“My wife and I still enjoy traveling. We normally make at least one family trip a year and over the last two years have visited Indonesia, Cambodia, Egypt, Jordan, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries and Russia as well as Italy and Vancouver, Canada. We both have the itch to travel, and we’ve passed it on to our children.”

One daughter lives in Jakarta, Indonesia, as a project manager for a company that manages economic and social development programs for USAID and other international organizations.

The couple’s other daughter teaches third-grade in the Chicago public school system.

Goetz has a special place in his heart for Venezuela where he and his wife went following his first job out of law school, a two-year stint working with the Legal Services Organization of Indianapolis.

 “We went to Venezuela when I received a fellowship from the Latin American Teaching Fellowships program at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy to teach in the law school at the Universidad Catolica Andres Bello in Caracas. The fellowship was only for two years but we stayed for 10. Our children were born in Caracas, I started my career with Ford Motor Company there and we made many wonderful
friends.”

Goetz was a director and president of the board of directors of the American school, Campo Alegre, and a director of the Venezuelan American Chamber of Commerce and of the North American Association.
“After Venezuela, and Ecuador, of course, China and the Czech Republic are two of the countries in which I have spent a lot of time working and thoroughly enjoyed the people and the countries. Japan and Korea are in that category as well as India more recently.”

Goetz has been fascinated to see how quickly countries’ economies and politics have changed over the years since he worked and traveled in them.

“Korea comes to mind as one country that has prospered and become more democratic. China is certainly prospering and it will be interesting to see what that does to its political system,” he says. “Venezuela has accomplished some redistribution of wealth under Chavez but at a cost in political freedom. Brazil has broken out of its boom and bust cycle while achieving a return to democracy. The end of the apartheid regime in South Africa without a full-blown civil war and its commitment to democracy has surprised many.

“And, of course, the fall of the Iron Curtain and the speed with which Eastern Europe has assimilated with the rest of Europe both economically and politically were remarkable.”

In addition to his work at Dykema, Goetz has been actively engaged in State Bar of Michigan programs, chairing the International Law Section last year and as a section committee chair this year.
He also co-chairs the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce USA and is the program director for the Conference Board’s Council of Senior International Attorneys.

A trustee and director of the Michigan Opera Theatre in Detroit, Goetz got involved during his time with Ford, when the company — a major supporter of the MOT — would invite employees and their spouses to attend performances.

“After the Ford executive that had been on the board retired, I was invited to fill that role and have been re-elected to the board since leaving Ford,” he says. “Naturally, I love the opera performances, but I’m also fascinated by what it takes to get a performance to opening night. While the MOT is a nonprofit, it must still operate as a business and I enjoy both the business and social side of being on the board.”
 

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