In 1998, a fellow alumnus of the Colorado School of Mines introduced Dominic Ricotta to Apache Corporation, a $27 billion Houston-based oil and gas exploration and upstream production company. Today, Ricotta heads Apache’s worldwide litigation practice, which has a win rate of 90 percent at trial and other dispositive proceedings. It’s a role that has taken Ricotta as far abroad as Argentina, China, Egypt, and Australia.
Cultural challenges are ever-present, and they’re not limited to the dichotomy between Western and non-Western cultures. “One of the most important things I’ve learned is that every place we do business has a unique culture,” Ricotta says. “There are cultural barriers to a Texan working in Alberta, [Canada] just as much as there are to a Texan working in Cairo, [Egypt]. In fact, there are even cultural differences between Texans and New Yorkers.” To overcome such challenges, he says, you have to spot nuanced differences.
It took Ricotta years to gain that clarity between the United States and Australia. “We have George Washington, and the Statue of Liberty, and the Gettysburg Address—people and places and moments you can point to as defining. But I was having trouble picking up on what those would be for Australia,” says Ricotta, who finally got an answer from another lawyer. “He said it was Gallipoli. It was a WWI battle the Allied troops lost, but for Australia, it solidified the concept of ‘mate-hood,’ which is the idea that we’re all in it together. I think that shed a lot of light for me on the culture.”
Ricotta is cautious to avoid misunderstandings built on cultural nuances. “It’s easy for us to think of places like Canada and Australia as being just like the United States—and, in many ways, they are. But they have their own expected behaviors, and it’s generally not a good idea to export the big American personality without having a sensitivity to that,” he explains.
Ricotta is a believer in the use of storyboard narratives because of their universal appeal. “Great courtroom lawyers are simply great teachers, and great teachers use words and images,” he says. American lawyers, he adds, are particularly good at this function. “Because we have a jury system, lawyers are accustomed to telling a story persuasively using words and pictures, and that translates well to other cultures, because people are people, and we all love a good story well-told.”
As an example, Ricotta points to a major Canadian case in which Apache alleged that another company had stolen its trade secrets. Ricotta and his team wanted to introduce the storyboard concept in the Alberta courtroom, but the idea made Apache’s local counsel uncomfortable. Apache eventually hired a retired appellate judge to preview the narrative, and he loved it. Since then, trial judges in Alberta have responded positively to Apache’s storyboard strategy.
In a way, Ricotta’s approach to doing business abroad is just part and parcel of his core philosophy: know the detail without losing sight of the big picture. “That is something I can’t stress enough,” he says. “Few lawyers do both things well, and when you find one who does, you have a special lawyer.”
Ultimately, whatever challenges the global work presents, Ricotta sees them as one of the most exciting things about working for a global company. “It helps that Americans are generally known for being outspoken,” he adds, “and I don’t disappoint.”