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Navigating an International Move

Navigating an International Move

With demand for lawyers reaching its peak in certain practice groups across the globe there has probably never been a better time to make a move overseas if you are a corporate/M&A, banking & finance, technology, construction or regulatory lawyer.

Given we are dual headquartered in Sydney and London we regularly facilitate international moves. We often get asked questions about logistics, markets, firms, salaries and the like, so I thought I would put together a list of questions and answers which might be useful in determining your next steps.

What jurisdictions are available to an Australian Qualified lawyer?

The obvious jurisdictions for Australian lawyers are London, Scotland, Ireland, New York, San Francisco, Cayman Islands, Channel Islands, Hong Kong and Singapore. However, we have also placed Australian and New Zealand lawyers into firms and organisations in Bristol, Manchester, Moscow, Munich, Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Bangkok, and Papua New Guinea. The rule of thumb is to focus on common law jurisdictions, but there are certainly particular practice areas that are transferable across all legal systems.

What practice areas are in most demand?

The practice areas that will offer you the most choices in terms of locations and firms are Corporate/M&A, Banking & Finance, Investment Funds, Technology, Projects/Infrastructure and International Arbitration. For those interested in a move to the UK, the scope widens to include Dispute Resolution, Insurance, Insolvency, Employment, Real Estate, Competition, Financial Services, Intellectual Property and Construction Litigation.

For those looking to make a move to the US, the traditional practice areas include Corporate/M&A, Private Equity, Investment Funds, Banking & Finance and Technology.

For those interested in a move to jurisdictions across Europe, the well-worn path is again for Corporate/M&A, Funds and Banking & Finance Lawyers. Yet extends to Competition and International Arbitration.

For Off-Shore jurisdictions, we have placed Australians and Kiwis with expertise across Funds Management, Banking & Finance, M&A, Insolvency and broader Dispute Resolution.

Are Language skills essential for a move internationally?

For English speaking countries, generally not, except if specified. Mandarin skills are definitely looked on favourably (if not, a prerequisite) for a move to Hong Kong and of course Mainland China. Sometimes this can be extended to Singapore.  For lawyers moving to Tokyo, Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, Frankfurt and Russia, there are a heap of Anglo American law firms that use English language documents and their clients are typically English speaking, so language skills are not required. However, for day to day living, this would definitely make life easier.

What sort of salary could I expect in London or the US?

In Australia, salaries have moved up 10 to 15% in the past 6 months, and similarly, we have seen increases in salaries across London and New York. To give you an example, if you are a 3 year PAE lawyer making a move to a Magic Circle law firm in London, you are looking at a salary circa £120,000 (AU$230,000). If you are a 3-4 PAE year lawyer moving to a Tier 1 practice in New York, you will secure a salary of between US$220,000 – US$250,000 (AU$300,000 – AU$345,000). Bear in mind that you are likely to be discounted a year on your PAE in a move to the US or UK.

Which Australian firms do major global firms look for on a CV when reviewing applications?

For the more well-worn paths such as the UK, the list of firms is more wide reaching than say New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong or Singapore. For a UK move we have seen lawyers with ‘in demand’ skillsets move from top-tier, international, national, mid-tier and highly ranked boutiques. However, for the US and other less travelled jurisdictions, they are generally looking to hire people from known brands internationally.

Like everything though, it is all driven by supply and demand. When the market is tight, firms only really consider lawyers coming from top-tier or major international firms. When the demand is high (as it is now) we are seeing UK firms widening their search to consider mid-tier and boutique firms. This is great news for Australian lawyers, as reports back from the partners have been incredibly positive which will hopefully keep those pathways open when the market restricts again.

What can I expect from an interview process moving laterally to a major UK or US firm?

Generally speaking you will find interviewing with partners from major UK and US firms across all jurisdictions to be far more intense and gruelling than a lateral move in Australia. Given jurisdictional differences partners are really assessing your technical level, general intelligence and ability to think on your feet, so you will definitely be put through your paces. Often you will have to undergo two interviews with various partners and then a final interview with associates in the team. Some firms employ psychometric and written tests.

The process generally takes a couple of weeks and then you are looking at between 6-12 weeks after acceptance to be in a position to start a new role taking into account notice periods, visas, relocation and settling time. 

Do I need working rights?

The short answer is no. All the UK and US firms we deal with across all jurisdictions are set up to sponsor. The only real exception would be moving to Paris where they really require an EU passport as they generally like to hire their internationals as contractors. There are exceptions to this rule, but something to bear in mind if you have aspirations of moving to the City of Love.

What is the work life culture like in the US and UK? 

This really depends on the firm you are moving to as opposed to the jurisdiction. Generally speaking, UK firms are pretty good with respecting your weekends and also offer 30 days annual leave plus public holidays. The US firms obviously pay more, however, that doesn’t necessarily equate to working longer hours than you would in a top-tier firm in Australia. Sure there will be ‘all-nighters’ from time to time, yet they are appreciative and try to compensate with days in lieu and the like.

One of the attractions to working overseas is the ability to travel on weekends and on annual leave across the region. Generally speaking, your ability to do this at major firms is not less, however, it is always good to put in for leave well in advance!

The above is obviously not all encompassing. If you are thinking about an international move, had further questions or wanted to begin to explore options, feel free to reach out for a confidential conversation.

Sam Gray

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