Offshore Commercial Litigation & Dispute Resolution
The offshore sector houses a series of sophisticated legal markets, each comparable in many ways but unique in others. The leading outfits boast strong benches of litigation and dispute resolution lawyers comprised of locals and ex-pats, solicitors and barristers (including KC’s), many with credentials from the biggest and best onshore firms in the world. The work is complex, cross-border, high-value and professionally rewarding.
OFFSHORE LEGAL SYSTEMS
The offshore financial centres each have their own distinct legal systems, and as such you will be advising on law relevant to the jurisdiction you are practising in. Bermuda, BVI and Cayman all are based closely on English common law and so most of the principles and foundations will be familiar to you. Both Jersey and Guernsey have legal systems that are an amalgam of civil and common law, but in practice, a common law solicitor or barrister handling commercial disputes on either island will find much is familiar to them.
None of this means that there isn’t a learning curve, not only in grasping new legislation but also in understanding the nuances of an offshore perspective when working alongside onshore lawyers. It is a commonly held view that new arrivals take six months to feel accustomed to offshore law and perhaps double that to really hit their stride. There’s nothing to fear though; almost all your new colleagues will have been through the same process, and you will find that they are experts in getting their new hires up to speed.
|Jurisdiction||Commercial Court||Appeal Court||Final Appellate Court|
|Bermuda||The Supreme Court||Court of Appeal||
Privy Council (London)
|British Virgin Islands||The High Court (Commercial Division)||Appeal Court (Eastern Caribbean
|Cayman Islands||Grand Court||Cayman Islands Court of Appeal|
|Guernsey||Royal Court of Guernsey (Ordinary Court)||Guernsey Court of Appeal|
|Jersey||Royal Court of Jersey (Samedi Division)||Jersey Court of Appeal|
ADMISSION IN THE OFFSHORE SECTOR
Bermuda: lawyers qualified in the UK and Commonwealth jurisdictions which are recognised as equivalent (typically Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the common law provinces of Canada) can gain admission in Bermuda without the need for additional study. You will require a minimum of three years’ post-qualification experience. Formal admission will come on completion of one year in Bermuda.
British Virgin Islands: admission in BVI requires lawyers to be qualified in the UK – unlike the other offshore jurisdictions, qualifications from other Commonwealth jurisdictions are not accepted. There is no formal minimum level of PQE requirement in BVI. Note that you may read about proposed changes to BVI admission via the Legal Protection Act, but this has been deferred indefinitely – we will update this advice if those changes are eventually implemented.
Cayman Islands: lawyers qualified in the UK, Jamaica and other Commonwealth jurisdictions which are recognised as equivalent (for example Australia, New Zealand, and the common law provinces of Canada) can gain admission in the Cayman Islands without the need for any additional study. You will require a minimum of three years’ post-qualification experience (although note that firms can start interviewing six months prior to that).
Guernsey: all common law lawyers can practice in Guernsey without being admitted. For solicitors this makes little difference on a day-to-day basis, but barristers should be aware that you will not have rights of audience until you have passed the Guernsey Bar. You will not be eligible to sit these exams until you have been on the island for two years at which point, with the support of your firm, you can undertake what is usually a three-month study period.
Jersey: all common law lawyers can practice in Jersey without being admitted. For solicitors this makes little difference on a day-to-day basis, but barristers should be aware that you will not have rights of audience until you have passed the Jersey Advocates exams. You will not be eligible to sit these exams until you have been on the island for two years (of the last four).
OFFSHORE LITIGATION - THE WORK
Litigation and dispute resolution teams offshore advise on the full gamut of commercial, insolvency and trust litigation but most disputes fall into one or more of the following categories:
- Shareholder/Director disputes
- Breach of contract
- Fraud and asset recovery
- Freezing orders
- Enforcement of judgments
- Banking Litigation
- Contentious restructuring and insolvency
- Distressed investment funds litigation
- Trust and estate litigation
- Insurance Litigation
- Professional negligence
- Regulatory and compliance
Some firms field specialist litigators in insolvency or trusts for example, but in most cases, a litigator moving offshore will be exposed to a broad range of work across these fields. You can also expect to be client facing from the outset with all lawyers, at all levels encouraged to take on responsibility and contribute to client development efforts. The offshore markets reward more commercially minded and client friendly lawyers. Offshore disputes tend to be high-value and international in their nature.
Offshore commercial litigation lawyers advise a high-end client base that might include investment banks, funds and asset managers, and multi-national corporations. Trust litigation lawyers will often be advising ultra-high-net-worth private clients, beneficiaries, or trustees, and/or associated financial institutions such as family offices and trust companies.
You will frequently be instructed by, and working closely with, onshore Counsel, on matters that cross multiple jurisdictions but there are also plenty of disputes which centre around the offshore market and on which you will take the lead. Either way, it is commonplace for offshore litigators to be involved from the outset to conclusion of a case, although this work is also interspersed with some complex but fast-turnover opinion work.
Geographically, your clients could be based anywhere in the world although it is fair to say that London, New York and Hong Kong/Singapore all remain key centres. Note that BVI has particularly strong connections with the Asian markets, so a BVI practice is likely to include plenty of clients based in China.
ADVOCACY IN THE OFFSHORE FINANCIAL CENTRES
The legal profession is fused in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, and the Cayman Islands, so all admitted lawyers are entitled to stand in court. In practice, advocacy is handled by employed barristers or specialist external counsel with the requisite courtroom experience. As a solicitor you may enjoy more exposure to court work than might be typical in an onshore jurisdiction, but the probability is it will be in a support capacity. Likewise, more junior employed barristers may lead on preliminary matters but will often act in support of external counsel where there is a need for a particular area of expertise or experience.
In the Channel Islands, standing in court requires admission as a Guernsey/Jersey advocate, which means that even those who arrive on the island with lots of advocacy experience will be limited in the capacity in which they can act until they have cross qualified (see above).
LEGAL SALARIES IN THE OFFSHORE FINANCIAL CENTRES
Commercial litigation / dispute resolution lawyers are in high demand throughout the offshore world and salaries reflect this. Rates vary across firms and roles, but the outlines below should give a flavour.
In Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, a 3 years’ PQE litigator could expect something in the region of USD150k to USD175k p/a with salaries rising to well over USD200k at Senior Associate level. Cost of living is high on both islands but with low or zero tax (around 7.5% in Bermuda and tax-free in Cayman), your net earnings will more than cover it. Salaries in BVI (8% tax) tend to be a little lower (perhaps around USD10k less at each level of PQE) to reflect its lower cost of living.
In the Channel Islands, NQ litigators can expect to earn up to £75k p/a rising into the high £80k’s by 3 years’ PQE. Tax is maximum 20% so you can expect your net income to be equivalent to several thousand pounds more than that when comparing to mainland UK. Cost of living is broadly comparable South-Eastern England.
All firms in all jurisdictions offer a bonus, the usual benefits (including full private healthcare), and a relocation package which usually includes transfer to the island, some temporary accommodation on arrival and a cash sum towards the costs of shipping goods.
WORKING OFFSHORE, ONSHORE
Island life has a lot of advantages, and most litigators are not rushing back once they have a taste for it. However, if you do find yourself thriving at work but ready for a step up in pace outside of the office, the onshore offices of offshore law firms could provide the answer.
Most of the big names are present in Hong Kong, from where they field significant teams of litigators focused primarily, but not exclusively, on BVI work. In London, several of the larger firms house strong litigation teams often led by senior individuals who have plenty of offshore experience. Singapore and Dubai may also be an option. The quality of work is equally high, and you will hold an important role in client development matters, being on the ground in the home jurisdiction of many of your clients. Salaries are typically competitive with the upper end of the local market.
Many lawyers who move offshore never look back; the high-quality work, tax-efficient earnings, and a wonderful lifestyle seem to prove a winning combination for some offshore litigators! For these people the career opportunities are manifold since their knowledge of offshore law and their ever-growing network of contacts is hugely valuable to their firm, or alternatively their competitors.
Progression right through to Partnership is perfectly feasible (but of course, will be earned) and with larger firms having wide international networks, it is quite possible to move between jurisdictions without hampering your career.
For those who do move back home, or on to other international destinations, there will be plenty of options. The nature and quality of experience gained offshore is valued from London to Auckland and all major common law financial centres in between.
If this sounds interesting, the first step is to get in touch with Jason Horobin at Origin Legal for an initial discussion. You don’t need to be ready to sign up - we are happy to answer questions and help with your fact-finding as you explore whether this is the move for you.
Once the process starts, interviews are conducted by videoconference and will typically involve two or three stages, with discussions centred on both your professional attributes and your personal motivations for making the move. Offers can come around quickly – and it is too small a market to ‘play the field’ – so we recommend doing as much thinking and research as possible before starting the process. (See Interviewing for an International role).
Start dates are typically around three to six months later, accounting for the interview process, visa applications, and your notice period. It is possible to reduce this time frame in some circumstances or if your notice period is shorter.
For more information on the commercial litigation and dispute resolution market in the Cayman Islands, or to discuss any aspect of your international job search, please get in touch with:
Jason Horobin +44 (0)1206 233514 [email protected]
Charlotte Hooper +44 (0)1206 233515 [email protected]
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