Origin Legal


Building an International Legal Career

Building an International Legal Career

Building an International Legal Career

Advice for trainees and junior lawyers

Opportunities for junior lawyers to move overseas have rarely 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.

The most active onshore locations are the Middle East, Singapore, and to an extent Hong Kong, although Mandarin is increasingly a requirement, particularly for junior applicants. Occasional opportunities exist in Continental Europe but language skills are usually required. In the offshore sector, demand is high in the top-tier firms, particularly in the Channel Islands where there are no ‘PQE’ restrictions and, with the firms having few internal trainees, lots of junior vacancies.

Demand is particularly high for lawyers with one or two years’ PQE but there are always some opportunities for NQ’s in the international markets. We have recently worked on NQ roles in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Singapore, Hong Kong and several in both Jersey and Guernsey for example.

There is no ‘catch all’ answer but there are some common trends. Tick the following six 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.

  • 1. 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 and the offshore firms are happy to look at people from leading UK regional firms.

  • 2. Your practice area

Research locations well in advance to find out which practice areas are in demand, and steer your training/experience in the right direction. Corporate, Banking & Finance and Dispute Resolution travel anywhere; Energy, Projects, Construction, TMT, Shipping and Insurance are in demand in the Middle East and Asia but less so offshore. Funds, Trusts/Private Client and to an extent Property, tend to fit better offshore than onshore.

  • 3. 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.

  • 4. Academics

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.

  • 5. 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.

  • 6. Personal characteristics/li>

You are likely to work in a smaller team, have greater client contact, and more responsibility sooner. Hiring Partners for international roles will invariably look for team players with initiative, strong communication skills, and who exhibit an adaptable ‘can do’ attitude to business. 

All is not lost but you may need an interim step. A good regional 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.

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.

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.

All is not lost but you may need an interim step. A good regional 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.

This will depend on the firm and on work-permit requirements in the market. It will also take into account your circumstances and notice period, but as a rule we would say three to six months from interview to commencement is normal. It can happen more quickly at NQ level where one is not subject to a notice period.

For the right person, the drawbacks are negligible. Make sure you have fully considered the implications of being away from friends and family and that you are robust enough to put up with the inevitable challenges that come with relocating. New locations might look irresistible from afar but everywhere has its drawbacks; whether it’s fog in Jersey or hurricane season in the Caribbean, traffic in Dubai or the heat in Singapore, nowhere is perfect. Knowing any downsides in advance, even if they are relatively minor, all helps to make your move a success.

The implications of Brexit on the market remain uncertain for everyone of course, but early indications – and common sense – suggest that it is likely to make an international move more attractive, at least in the short-medium term. Whilst any economic downturn would likely have some impact on recruitment there is every suggestion that big firms will look to grow their international offerings ahead of their domestic practices. If our politicians are to be believed, our future as a great global trading nation will inevitably promote growth in the UK firms’ international offices. If they’re wrong, and the economy suffers, well you wouldn’t want to be left here, would you?

First of all, seek some advice as early as possible, and 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 imminent, we can offer advice on the market, the process and packages, as well as current vacancies.

Jason Horobin has specialised in international legal recruitment for over 16 years, helping countless lawyers to make career defining and life changing international moves.

Please get in touch if you would like to discuss your career opportunities overseas.

Telephone             +44 (0)1206 233 514
                            +44 (0)20 7096 1681

Email                   [email protected]  

LinkedIn linkedin.com/jasonhorobin/

Origin Legal produces a range of information to assist lawyers in both the strategic and technical aspects of making a career move.

We hope you find this document useful please do contact us on +44 (0)1206 233500 if you would like to discuss any of the information in more detail.

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