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What is the difference between a lawyer and an expat?

😁 Sounds like the beginning of a joke … But my life is filled with lawyers and expats. I have a law degree – and I have been an expat most of my life and currently do research in internationals in Denmark – so I feel very much at home with both groups.

So back to the question: What is the difference? Not a lot actually. Most lawyers and expats share striking similarities: They are razor sharp, have a good sense of humor and are intensely curious.

More than that, the sessions with me are often the first time they have been asked to reflect on themselves “as seen from the inside.” Why do I do what I do? And not the learnt, automatic response but the deeper, truer and sometimes vulnerable reasons for why we do it and what we have done in our lives. Both the lawyers and the internationals have been too busy working, living, doing. They have not done much introspection – and may even have seen it as egoistical. Until reality hit them and they realized a bit of reflection might help.

One remarkable difference is the awareness of “shape shifting”. Expats know they shape shift. They are used to taking on different personas depending on context. They have a stronger British accent at home – and tone it down in Denmark to ensure comprehension. They wear bland and practical clothing in Denmark and change into colors when back in Spain. They talk openly about their accomplishments with their old friends in the US while turning up the humble-dial with their Danish colleagues. They know that they have to adapt to be heard and to count. Our work is sometimes to challenge the new shape. Is it necessary to be quite as Danish to be heard?

Danish lawyers also shape shift. They are not the same at work and at home. But they seldom reflect on it as the shapes were created in childhood and have not changed much. Our work is sometimes to create awareness of these shapes to see if some of them can be unlearnt – and glimpse options for new ones.

As you probably can see, diversity is a big part of my work. Acknowledging that the world may be ready for your new shape, for more honesty.

I am not arguing for diversity being the burden of the individual – but I do argue that we should all seize the moment. Now is the time for all of us to reflect on how we may walk out of one shape and into another one. Maybe one that feels better, freer even.


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