Building an international legal career - advice for trainees and junior lawyers
Opportunities for newly qualified and junior lawyers to move overseas have never been better. Firms are investing heavily in their international networks and as team sizes grow so does the need for junior level support. Below are our thoughts on some of the questions we are asked most frequently by junior lawyers with international aspirations.
Where can I go?
The most active onshore regions are the Middle East and South East Asia whilst opportunities also exist in Continental Europe and Australasia. Offshore, demand is high in the top-tier firms particularly in the Channel Islands where there are no ‘PQE’ restrictions.
When can I go?
Demand is particularly high for lawyers with one or two years’ pqe but there is an ever increasing range of opportunities for NQ’s in the international markets. We have recently worked on NQ roles in Dubai, Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong and several in the Channel Islands for example.
What do firms look for?
There is no ‘catch all’ answer but there are some common trends. Tick the following five boxes and you can start packing your bags; hit three or four and you are in a strong position; even a couple – such as Mandarin and strong academics – might open doors.
(I) Your current firm
The bigger its reputation the better – international roles usually go to applicants from big UK, US or Global law firms. Top-tier boutique experience can also be attractive.
(II) Your practice area
Research locations, find out which practice areas are in demand, and steer your experience in the right direction. Corporate, Banking & Finance and Dispute Resolution travel anywhere; Energy, Projects, Construction, TMT, Shipping and Insurance are all in demand in the Middle East and Singapore; Trusts and Private Client work well offshore.
(III) International experience/languages
Relevant language skills or prior experience of living in your target market, for example a secondment, is a major asset but a lack of it need not rule you out. If you don’t have connections to the area be ready to explain in detail why you are interested as firms will need to be convinced that you are committed.
Similar to top firms in the UK, they tend to look for 2:1 or above. If your academics fall short of this but you tick every other box it may not hold you back, but be prepared to justify why.
(V) Relevant sector experience
Energy, projects or construction sector experience can be a major asset in the Middle East and Asia. Financial services experience likewise offshore. Think about the client base in your target market and aim to develop relevant sector experience.
What if I don’t meet the criteria?
Consider an interim step. A good but less known firm in Manchester may not be a ticket to your dream life in Dubai, but it may get you a foot in the door at a big name like DLA or Eversheds. A couple of years on you will be in a far stronger position.
How will it impact my career?
International experience has never been more respected than it is now. Contrary to the old views that a stint overseas was akin to a working holiday, it is now seen as a major asset in most Global law firms. Making the move early allows you to take on more responsibility and progress far quicker than might be the case in a large team at HQ and also gives you plenty of time to decide where your longer term career lies before issues like partnership arise.
What are the practicalities?
All of the firms we work with are experienced in hiring and relocating lawyers from overseas. They provide both financial and personal assistance in making the move, covering everything from the cost of shipping your belongings to advice on where you might want to live. Interviews are usually done by videoconference or skype initially, with some firms following up with a visit to the location whilst others are happy to hire remotely.
How long does it take?
This will depend on your circumstances, notice period etc. but as a rule we would say four to six months from interview to commencement. It can happen more quickly at NQ level where one is not subject to a notice period.
What should I do next?
First of all, seek some advice - ideally from us! Even if you’re thinking a couple of years down the track, we are happy to chat and advise you on how best to position yourself for a move. If your plans are more imminent, we can offer advice on the market, the process and potential packages as well as current vacancies.
Jason Horobin has specialised in international legal recruitment for 15 years and has helped countless lawyers to make career defining international moves. Contact him on +44 (0)20 7096 1681 or by email at [email protected].