When the international law firm Coudert Brothers* collapsed 15 years ago, partner Sylvia Burks and associate Lars Johansson landed in different firms but continued to focus on helping foreign clients expand the business into the U.S. market. Last year, they decided it was time to join forces and launched their own boutique law firm, Burks Johansson LLP in San Francisco.

PARTNER NEWS Burks Johansson works with entrepreneurs and start-up companies, and large multinational corporations, to expand to the U.S. market via acquisitions, investments, joint ventures, distribution arrangements, or via organic business expansion.  

“Foreign clients coming to the United States are often surprised about the complexity of the U.S. marketplace – its patchwork of diverse laws, regulations, and practices,” said Sylvia Burks, J.D. and co-founder of the firm.

“We’ve been assisting clients for a long time now, and over time you develop a sense for what the market trends are, what the risk factors might be, and how to navigate it all in a practical and cost-effective manner” added Lars Johansson, J.D. and co-founder of the firm. 

One of the significant benefits of starting their own firm is, according to Johansson, that they got back to the practice of law. 

“Working with a smaller firm can be more cost-effective for clients, and we get to do what we enjoy the most – practicing law and working with clients directly.” 

Burks and Johansson still work closely with their old larger law firms, especially when client needs fall outside their areas of expertise or, when additional resources are needed. Some of the partners they have worked with ever since the Coudert days in the 90s.

It was their own experience of living abroad that made them focus on international business transactions. Lars Johansson grew up in Sweden and came to California in the late 80s after living in France and traveling in the Middle East. Sylvia Burks, born in Texas, spent many years in Europe, studying, working, and practicing law in Austria, Germany, and Belgium.

“Things have changed quite a bit. For the longest time, the practice of law was described as a technical profession, limited to a specific jurisdiction,” said Burks.

There were, according to Burks, a lot of pride in the notion of being super focused on local laws and regs. But the business world was developing in a different direction, less constrained by borders. As cross border transactions became more prevalent, there was a need for attorneys to understand the cultural context and to issue spot around potential conflicts between U.S. laws and foreign systems to bridge relations and do deals.”

“When I first met Lars, I was excited to trade European anecdotes, perspectives, and interests, but in working with him over the years, I found that we have so much more , and dedication and loyalty to our clients and colleagues,” Burks said.

Their passion for international business and different cultures is a big reason why Burks Johansson has chosen to be a part of the SACC network. And giving back to the community.

“Sylvia and I are always available to share experience, be a sounding board, or help with an introduction if we can. It’s always rewarding when one can help someone find a path forward in the U.S.,” said Johansson.

One of the significant benefits of starting their own firm is, according to Lars Johansson, that they got back to working more directly with clients. 
Sylvia Burks thinks that she and Lars Johansson has a lot in common, like “a strong value system and work ethic, love of problem-solving”

*Coudert Brothers