Moving to the UK as an Overseas Planning or Environment Lawyer

Moving to the UK as an Overseas Planning or Environment Lawyer

Moving to the UK as an Overseas Planning or Environment Lawyer

The demand for Planning and Environment Lawyers in the UK is strong.  With continued investment into infrastructure projects especially in areas such as renewables as well as the continued demand in more traditional development planning, workloads are high in an under-lawyered sector.  This has been exacerbated by the increase of in-house jobs that is attracting experienced lawyers away from private practice as they look to diversify their experience.  Although there is a slight uncertainty created by an election year, a change of government is likely to create further work for Planning & Environment lawyers leading to increased demand for talent.

It can be argued that there has never been a better time to move to the UK as a foreign qualified Planning & Environment Lawyer.  The UK planning system compares with Australia and New Zealand and lawyers from these jurisdictions tend to form most of the applications I see.  However, I have also worked with lawyers from Canada, the USA, South Africa and Argentina.  Below are a few tips which might be useful for anyone considering a move to The UK as a Planning or Environment Lawyer.

Be prepared.

I know this is obvious, but before you start looking for roles in the UK it pays to do some research.  Understand what your visa options are and ideally have them in place and ready to go.  It is not un-common for overseas lawyers to want to take a break and do some travelling prior to arriving in the UK. If this is the case, try and sort your itinerary in advance so you have an arrival date and are ready to work when you arrive.  Look into accommodation and have an idea of where you are going to stay and what the accommodation costs are likely to be.  This will help you determine your budget and the level of salary you can accept.  What is your long-term goal?  How long do you intend to stay for and is there the possibility of making a permanent move?

Sign up and start reading updates and blogs.  Most large firms will often post updates on changes in legislation or case law.  There are several well-known contributors in the UK and do not forget updates from barristers’ chambers either.  This is an excellent way to keep yourself up to date with what is happening on the UK scene.

Understand the market.

This follows on from the above, but it makes sense to understand who the key players in the UK market are and where they are based.  Publications such as the Legal 500 and Chambers can help, but if you want a more nuanced breakdown of firms in the sector then it helps to speak to an expert who has been recruiting in it.  They should be able to guide you on current trends, what firms are busy and in what sector.  Some practices will be strong in infrastructure while others in development.  Some will be good all-rounders.  Practices may sit their environment team as part of the planning team whereas others will treat it as a separate entity.  It will also be useful to get an understanding of the demographic of the leading firms.  If they already have overseas lawyers as part of their team, then they may be open to hiring others.  Also, consider the location of the team.  Not every team is based in London and some may be looking to hire regionally.

Be Flexible.

Those who can be flexible are those most likely to be rewarded with the role they are looking for.  Recruitment can sometimes be a long game and those who can compromise on factors such as location or contracts are more likely to find a position.  Practices can get busy at certain points in projects, especially on DCOs and therefore may look for flexible resourcing at this point.  This can be a good opportunity for overseas lawyers to get in with a leading name in the sector.  Once you have established yourself as part of the team then contracts may be extended, or it may lead to other opportunities such as client secondments in other parts of the business.

Being open to alternative options such as jobs in the local authorities or central government is an effective way to build on experience.  If private practice is struggling to recruit lawyers, then it stands to reason that the public sector is too. This can be a good introduction to UK planning law and a decent place to build new skills.

Most overseas lawyers I talk to in planning are keen to base themselves in London.  However, it is worth bearing in mind that there are thriving regional centres in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh.  While I understand the attractions of the capital, those willing to be flexible on location may find they have a better chance of securing an excellent long-term role.

I hope this is helpful and if you would like a more detailed chat then my contact details are below.

Stuart Phillips

About The Author | Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips is a Managing Consultant at Origin Legal with over 20 years of experience advising lawyers on moves within Planning and Environment.  If you would like a confidential conversation you can get in contact with him on 07725 246 857 or at [email protected]


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