Playing for High Stakes
cassin thrives on career abroad
Keene, New Hampshire, is a far cry
from Singapore, Hong Kong, or
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. For
Richard Cassin ’78, these places have one
thing in common. He’s called all of them
home. Currently head of Heller Ehrman’s
Singapore office, Cassin specializes in international
joint ventures and alliances, crossborder
investments, and compliance issues.
“I wanted to be a lawyer before I finished grade school,” Cassin says. The desire was cemented in high school while working for local attorney Ernest L. Bell. Inspired by the example of a man for whom lawyering was a “true calling,” Cassin enrolled at BC Law, where he was editor of the Boston College Law Review. His first job was as an antitrust litigator and US securities lawyer in Virginia (where he met and married his wife Cynthia) and Florida.
What led Cassin to deviate from the script of successful domestic practice? A combination of wanderlust, curiosity, and a fortuitous set of dinner plans. Through friends of his late father-in-law, a US engineer for Saudi Aramco, Cassin met Aramco’s general counsel at a dinner party one weekend. “When I asked [him] what working in the Middle East was like, he said the main feature was uncertainty. That was his entire answer. Uncertainty. It should have worried me, but instead it appealed to my curiosity,” Cassin recalls. “He offered me a job that night. I was completely flabbergasted,” Cassin says, but he took the job.
Cassin sets the proliferation of foreign law firms across the globe today in high relief against the barrenness of opportunity lawyers with a yen to practice abroad faced in 1978. Globalization has changed everything. And the stakes are high. Cassin has dealt with issues to do with American oil policy in the Middle East, the Iraq-Iran war, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
“Every international project has a political component. Sometimes politics thwarts commerce, and no amount of lawyering can overcome it,” he says. Still, good lawyering accomplishes much. Cassin’s expertise on the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which criminalizes bribery of foreign officials in order to retain or obtain business, proves as invaluable to his practice at Heller Ehrman, which he joined in 1995, as it did in 1981’s Saudi Arabia. Today, China’s “go-go economy” and prevalent corruption contribute to US policies that effectively assume all Chinese citizens are “foreign officials.” Penalties can equal a corporate death sentence, he says. “When every person you meet in a country of more than a billion people is an opportunity to violate the FCPA,” Cassin states wryly, “that’s an awesome and unprecedented compliance challenge. It keeps me busy.”
Beyond the gloss of a legal life less ordinary, what remains clear to Cassin is that the basic thrills of business lawyering— forging, and sometimes ending, new relationships—remain the same, regardless of the national, cultural, or linguistic lines he has been asked to cross: “All of it requires a lot of patience and occasional creativity, and it also brings enormous satisfaction.”
Cassin also draws from the well of familial and spiritual community. His wife home-schooled their three sons so the family could travel more easily. Church is the heart of his community abroad. The importance Cassin attaches to these outside factors is manifested in his advice to those interested in practicing internationally: “Learn a foreign language. Marry someone who shares your interests, because living overseas can be difficult. Seek out opportunities, and don’t exclude less orthodox choices.”
—Jessica Curtis ’07
More from Esquire: