An Associate Solicitor’s Guide to an International Career Move

An Associate Solicitor's Guide to an International Career Move

Purpose of this guide for Associate Solicitors seeking a move abroad

This guide is designed as a resource for Associates in commercial firms who are considering a career move. We hope you find it useful although inevitably it can’t answer every question. If you would like to discuss any aspect or you have further questions, please get in touch.

Market Summary

It took a while but we can finally say that the City recruitment market has returned to normality following the global financial crisis. That’s not to say that remnants don’t remain. Firms are coming around slowly to the reality that we are returning to a candidate short market and some are still being notably demanding in their expectations. Nonetheless, there hasn’t been a better market for making a move for many years so if you are thinking about a change there is no time like the present.

So, there are jobs – but can you get one of them? Your chances will depend on a number of factors but principally it will be your practice area and your track record that dictate. Transactional areas are booming again with Corporate, Banking and Finance all busy, particularly if you have experience in Capital Markets, Private Equity and/or Financial Services work. Litigation and Arbitration are also in demand as are the usual niche areas such as Real Estate, Construction, Shipping, Insurance or Tax. Language or market specialism is also an asset – if you are a magic circle lawyer with contacts in Brazil and fluent Portuguese, you are in luck!

As for track record, well if you have good firms on your CV and haven’t had too many moves, you are likely to be in demand. Don’t worry about the odd slip though – a record of consistency punctuated by one move that went sour in 6 months should not be a problem – even law firms recognise that people can make a mistake!

Our advice, call a recruitment consultant and talk it through. You don’t need to send your CV to get an overview, although they probably won’t discuss specific roles until you give something in writing..


Where can I go?

We would encourage you to ask two questions: “where can I go?” and “where do I want to go?” It is easy to assume that the only options are the obvious ones, options that often leave people wondering if it is worth all of the trouble.

Dealing with ‘where can you go?’ first. As noted above, this will depend on your experience and track record. The ‘typical’ move is from a large city firm to either a) a US firm - better money, smaller team… or b) a Smaller/Mid-Sized firm – better culture, work/life balance, better prospects.

For those at a mid-sized firm it will depend on your skill-set and


personality. Yes people move from midsized firms to the magic circle but they also move to other mid-sized firms and indeed to smaller firms, sometimes citing the idea that mid-sized firms are an easier ride as a myth. Again, there is probably no better person to talk to about this than a good recruitment consultant who spends their days speaking to law firms and should have an accurate sense of what they look for. One point on this – try not to shoot the messenger – whilst it is understandably frustrating when a third party tells you that your chosen firm is not an option, chances are it is true. The nature of our industry is such that if a consultant thought there was even a slim chance that your chosen firm would be interested, they would give it a go.

The question of ‘where do you want to go?’ is often just as taxing. It is well worth taking the time, away from the pressures of the office (and ideally not on the back of a bad day) to really think through why you want to move and what you hope to achieve with that move. Typically

people are motivated by a combination of pull factors (the attractions of the new employer - better career prospects, improved quality of work, better remuneration, better work/life balance), and push factors (those driving you away from your current firm - more on this below). It is easy to go headlong into a search for a ‘step-up’ only to find that when the opportunity arises it doesn’t seem as attractive as you thought it might. Again, a good recruitment consultant should be experienced in helping people to clarify their thinking on this.

Should I move?

Sometimes the best advice a recruiter can give you is to stay put. It doesn’t pay our bills in the short term but it certainly helps to build trust. Typically though, the thought of a career move will have been brought on by something and more often than not, that thing doesn’t change. Allied with consideration of what life might be like elsewhere, take time to analyse what it is you are not content with at the moment. This enables you to clearly judge whether the opportunities that arise are likely to address it.

These push factors range from the most prosaic - unhappiness with remuneration, career progression slower than you feel is merited or your department head driving you up the wall - through to complex business and strategy questions - lack of marketing support, lack of opportunities to build your client base, lack of focus on your area of expertise. These latter points are well worth considering since even a midlevel lawyer should be starting to think about how they build a case for Partnership.

Nobody can tell you whether you should or should not move and no recruiter should try, but one thing is for certain - knowing what else is out there will never weaken your position. Taking a look at the market and even attending some first round interviews might feel like treachery but in truth, whilst it might lead to your departure, it might just as likely lead to the conclusion that the grass really isn’t greener, leaving you to settle happily back into your current role in the knowledge that you are in the right place.

Why do I need a recruitment consultant?

Naturally we are biased, but in most cases it is difficult to see how working with a good agent can be anything but beneficial. Recruiters spend their entire working week immersed in the market and we
wouldn’t last long if we didn’t know and speak to a huge number of people.

Cayman Islands water view

Of course you need to find someone who you believe you can trust, who seems to know the market and who has contacts in the types of firms you are interested in. If you don’t get that feeling - and you should always test a recruiter on their expertise - look elsewhere, there are plenty of us out there!

Once you do have a relationship, that consultant should be able to help you with the questions above - where can I go, what am I looking to achieve, should I even consider moving - as well as with the more process focused points below, from the best way to make approaches, through to writing a CV, interview preparation and negotiating offers. Not to mention the day to day processes. You are no doubt busy and the arranging/rearranging of multiple interviews is a challenge even for those of us who do it for a living!

Your agent will of course have a vested interest - typically a consultancy doesn’t get a fee until they are successful. But in our experience few, if any lawyers are ‘persuaded’ to move by a consultant so most decent operators will have long since reached the conclusion that it is better to be frank, honest and impartial and present the best range of options to give you, and us, the best chance of success.

What should I do next?

Once you have decided to consider your options you should start to think about a CV. Recruitment consultants will usually be reluctant to talk to you in any detail about specific vacancies until they have seen this but don’t let that stop you getting in touch. A decent consultant will be able to tell you about the market, talk generally about your options and crucially, help you with your CV (more on this below).

Once you have decided to work with a consultant they should agree, in consultation with you, a plan of action and a time-frame for executing it. A contingent recruiter will be able to discuss a range of different firms and should be able to advise you of the best way to approach them. Needless to say you should be in control of which firms reach the target list but it is always worth listening to the consultant’s opinion as some firms have got a story to tell that hasn’t yet reached the market. It is also wise to ensure at this stage that you are both in complete agreement on what happens next. Critical throughout is communication and both parties should ensure that they maintain regular contact even if it sometimes takes a while to get feedback.

One point to remember. If you are working with multiple agencies, always insist that they get your express permission before sending out your CV. In recruitment, like any other business, there are some who operate in the grey areas and an agent sending your CV out on mass will not only make it difficult for anyone else to assist you, it also significantly increases the chances of duplication.

When invitations to interview start to come in, your consultant should be able to advise you on the nature of the meeting and help you to prepare. Research is key – make sure you are up to speed on the firm, recent hires, new clients, big news stories – and make sure that you have a clear idea on what the team you are talking to and the Partners you are meeting do

Main Gate of Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque

Your CV

Integral to any move is your CV. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and if you ask ten people for advice they will give you ten different answers. If you are working with a consultant, get them to help or at least to provide a second opinion. Within reason, detail is good. Don’t worry about sticking to two pages but equally do apply some quality control to what is included. For example, a sample list of transactions should be exactly that, the best ten or so things you have done, not everything you have worked on.

Also remember that you do not need to go into too much detail on what each transaction involved. You should be interviewed by people who understand your sector so an overview of your involvement should suffice. Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, this is no time for modesty. Look for the achievements and if you are struggling to see what sets you apart from the field, speak to your consultant. It is their job to bring out the strengths in your application and it is rare that we meet a candidate who has reached any level with any decent firm without having had some impressive achievements.

We could go on for pages, such are the potential pitfalls of a CV. Our advice, get the key facts and figures down on paper, think carefully about what you have done and what makes you stand out, and then speak to a consultant who knows what the market looks for and can advise you on if/how to tailor it accordingly. In fact, if you are working with them as a candidate, they will take the raw material, format it for you and come back to you with a finished article. Please take a look at the sample CV template on our website for an outline of a standard CV and some more useful tips.

The offer

Negotiating an offer can be a fraught process at the end of a long series of meetings. Most lawyers will be confident negotiators but it can be a different matter when it’s your future you’re negotiating for. So our advice, use your recruitment consultant as a sounding board if not to handle the negotiations directly. Some considerations:

  • Recap your original motivations and make sure these are not forgotten as the focus moves onto the financials – moves made solely for money tend not to be the long term solution (unless more money was your sole reason for moving!)
  • Consider the long term potential compensation and prospects not just the first year.
  • Remember that the firm is also ‘taking some risk’ in hiring you - is there room for compromise?
  • If you are looking for a big uplift, be prepared to justify why you are worth more, unproven, to the new firm, than you are as a proven entity at your old firm.
  • Tread carefully when juggling offers. Having a better paying alternative can increase the offer from your preferred firm but can also cause bad feeling if a firm feels it is being used as a bargaining chip.

Communication is key - ask questions, agree deadlines and stick to them. Taking time to think it through is sensible but stringing people along will rarely benefit either party.

Jersey Memorial Tree

I'm going, what now?

Ideally, by now you will already have checked your contract and any associated documents to see what potential obstacles could come up. Notice period, restrictions and bonus entitlements for example are all potential sticking points. Next is looking at the new contract – you are probably more expert at this than most but nonetheless check that everything you discussed is reflected in the agreement and iron out any potential grey areas.

One thing we would recommend is going through the paperwork thoroughly and coming back with a final list of issues to be resolved, as a drip feed of ‘problems’ can leave a firm wondering if you are playing for more time.

Only when you are happy with the paperwork and contracts are agreed should you make this known to your current firm. Prepare for the worst – even if your firm understands your reasons once the dust has settled, they might still react badly when the news is broken. It’s always best not to burn bridges so make clear in your own mind how you are going to approach it, and what you will give as your reasons, and then stick to them. Focus on the positives of the firm you are moving to rather than the negatives of the place you are leaving, even if inside you are already popping the Champagne corks!

About us

Origin Legal International is a division of Origin Legal, one of the United Kingdom’s leading independent legal recruitment specialists. Formerly operating as Gladwin Law, the team has fifteen years’ experience of placing lawyers in London and worldwide. Divisional Head Jason Horobin was previously head of the International Private Practice division for a major Global legal recruitment agency before founding Gladwin Law in 2011 and
subsequently merging the business into Origin Legal in 2015.

We are committed to providing a personalised, pro-active service to candidates and clients, offering genuine advice and consultation, rather than the commoditised target driven approach now often seen in our industry. Our model relies heavily on developing long-term working partnerships, and we know we have to earn these. We think we do the simple things better than most. We know our markets inside out, we are always responsive, our information is accurate and our approaches are discreet and professional.

We do not assume that everyone who contacts us is ready to move and we are happy to help with your fact-finding process with no obligation to take things further. Equally, if you have decided it is time for a change we will gladly meet to discuss your options and tell you a bit more about how we work.


Contact details

If you would like to find out more about the market, discuss potential opportunities or just ask a few questions about living and working in the Cayman Islands, please get in touch.  If you would like to send us a CV you can rest assured that it will be treated confidentially and never released without your advance approval. If you prefer to chat first, you can contact us any time on the details below:

Jason Horobin ddi. +44 (0)1206 233 514 [email protected]

Charlotte Hooper ddi. +44 (0)1206 233 515 [email protected]


Resources you may like

Summarise your experience and show how it fits the role with our CV Template

Summarise your experience and show how it fits the role with our NQ CV Template

When it comes to international recruitment, the option to interview over Skype, BlueJeans, or one of the many other online videoconference platforms.