It is the question we get asked most consistently by people considering legal jobs offshore. The answer is unequivocally yes, although with one caveat…in our experience, people rarely want to.
It is easy to assume that it’s the island lifestyle, a better work-life balance or the lower tax bill that keeps people offshore but there are a myriad of professional reasons too: technically complex and fast-paced work, smaller teams affording greater responsibility, real client contact and an opportunity to build your network leading to, in many cases, far better career progression.
Furthermore, if you tire of the more relaxed pace of life, offshore lawyers are no longer limited to a small island. Opportunities are as likely to come up in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai or London as they are in the Channel Islands or the Caribbean. And when they do, your skills, experience and contacts will transfer more easily than might be the case with a similar onshore move.
Recent returnees from the Channel Islands can be found at leading firms such as Clifford Chance, Simmons & Simmons, CMS, Norton Rose Fulbright, Clyde & Co., Travers Smith, Eversheds and many more.
Having said all of this, there are reasons - personal or professional - why you might want (or need) to return ‘home’ eventually. If you do, you are unlikely to have too many difficulties. Yes, there will inevitably be roles where a hiring partner wants someone moving directly from another firm down the road, but there will also be roles where your skillset and experience is what sets you apart. Many offshore lawyers have expertise in high-value corporate, finance or funds work, whilst litigators will tend to have exposure to financial services, insolvency or trust disputes, all sought after in the UK.
You may even find that you don’t need to look for a job. Working offshore will see you routinely being instructed by Senior Associates and Partners from the pick of the onshore firms. If you do a good job it probably won’t be too long before they’re tapping you on the shoulder and quietly asking you when you’re coming home.
If you think you might 'head home' at some point, there are a few things you can do to keep all options open:
- Target the better-known firms in the larger jurisdictions – a high-profile firm in Cayman or the Channel Islands sells better in London or Sydney than a less well-known outfit in a lower profile jurisdiction;
- Aim to maximise your exposure to work that is relevant and sought after in the onshore world;
- Take time to review your long-term goals - have a loose plan, even if it will inevitably change. Timing can be everything – e.g. if you decide you want to shoot for partnership onshore, aim to be back in the market two or three years in advance since you will inevitably need time to build your practice;
- Start your search well in advance of when you want/need to make the move – we would recommend around six months in advance;
- Aim to work with a recruitment consultancy who understand both the onshore market you are targeting, and the value and quality of the offshore experience you have gained in your current role.
Taking these points into account, a typical offshore lawyer who has done a stint with a good firm is sure to have options if they do decide to head back to the onshore world, indeed there are plenty of examples of returning lawyers who have joined leading firms in the market.
Perhaps the hardest part of moving back is deciding what type of employer to target since the relative freedom of the offshore firms can make life in a large team at a City behemoth look less appealing. This may in part explain the tendency for some returnees to look at boutiques or smaller firms with high-quality practices where they can keep some elements of what they enjoyed offshore.
So, if your heart says 'do it' there is no reason that your head shouldn't follow...but remember, the tax rate will sting a bit if you do 'come home'!
If you would like to discuss opportunities to take your legal career offshore, or if you are an offshore lawyer who is considering heading back onshore, please contact Jason Horobin ([email protected]).