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5 things I learnt in London

5 things I learnt in London

I’ve recently returned from a couple of weeks in the UK, the first time I’ve been home for over four years.  I spent week one in my hometown sticking to a strict diet comprising all the major food groups – Monster Munch, tea cakes, fish and chips, Old Thumper (I’m from Dorset), curry (I nearly wept), bacon sandwiches, one pot noodle, two Tesco doughnuts, two pub lunches and dinner at the one place on the south coast Rick Stein doesn’t own, for now.

Week two was spent in London where, alongside meeting with several of Montgomery’s key UK clients, I also caught up with a number of Australian lawyers living and working there.  With so many Aussies having picked up roles in London over the last few years I was keen to learn how they were finding life, how the pandemic had treated them, how the world’s current economic uncertainty was affecting them and, ultimately, how they viewed a potential return to Australia at some point.

Here are the five key things I learnt:

  1. It’s not all doom and gloom! – despite my Australian client base secretly wishing (in the nicest possible way) that life in London is terrible, everyone’s unhappy, Brexit, Boris, war and worry would soon lead to Australia’s best and brightest packing up and coming home, that’s definitely not how it feels.  Everyone I spoke with (predominantly corporate and banking lawyers) said things were certainly calmer but they were busy, felt secure in their roles and there was a distinct sense it wouldn’t be long before things started to return to a rolling boil.  There was no anxiety or sense any bubbles had burst.
  2. US law firms aren’t all evil! – I’ve moved countless Australian lawyers to London over the years and most end up with a choice between a magic circle/silver circle firm or a US law firm. You’ll work hard whichever one you choose but the general understanding is that the, frankly bonkers, salaries paid by the American firms compensate you for part of your soul and all of your social life.  I only met with one lawyer in London who longed for the return of his soul, yet the others specifically commented that the expectations on them were no worse than what was expected back in Australia.  They work hard and they work long but they’re spectacularly well compensated, they work closely with incredible Partners on incredible deals but it’s fundamentally business as usual, just with more zeros.
  3. Where did all you litigators come from? – In my experience, it’s always been the M&A and finance lawyers who find it so easy to pick up roles in London.  In the good times, every firm is looking, you all talk the same language and half the team you’ll be joining are mates of yours from home.  Disputes lawyers though typically found it much harder.  You were seen as exotic, and smart but risky and too hard to assimilate. And then I met with several tier-one firms who told me a good chunk of their litigation team was from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the US.  These are big, international firms happily hiring quality Australian litigators in several cases to work with Australian Partners.  Times are changing for Australian litigators seeking roles in London and, when the market shifts into 4th gear again, call me, eh?
  4. Quick fire round:
    a) Every man, woman and child living in either Angel or Hackney is a lawyer.
    b) You weren’t joking when you said you’d use the weekends to explore Europe (and I mean all of Europe.) Who has a favourite café in Moldova?
    c) On the subject of coffee, thank you. Australians have changed London for the better.
  5. The final thing I learnt and, since returning have had confirmed, Australian lawyers are once again beginning to head to London. For now, the flow is slow but in the last few weeks, I’ve seen several people pop up at leading firms in the UK.  There is a sense the UK market will stage a resurgence soon and, once someone officially fires the starting pistol, those lawyers who have been treading water in anticipation of a shift, will make a bolt for the door.

Just to mention, if you’re reading this and you’re an Australian lawyer already in the UK, Montgomery Worldwide is a specific part of our business that focuses on your needs as you head overseas for the first time, develop your career in a new jurisdiction and then one day perhaps consider a move back home.  We produce periodic, specific content throughout the year that we think any Australian lawyer living and working overseas would find useful.  If you’d like to join the mailing list, please send me your email address and I’ll ensure you’re part of the clan.

Matt Harris

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