With taxes on the mainland stubbornly high and little sign yet of any shift in the work-life balance at your average City law firm, is it any surprise that so many lawyers are tempted offshore? The Channel Islands offers a heady mix of top quality international work, a commute measured in minutes not hours, and the chance to cut your tax bill dramatically, but is it for you?
The Islands of Jersey and Guernsey
- British Crown Dependencies
- Just off the Normandy coast
- The best climate in the British Isles
- Miles of unspoilt coastline
- Renowned tourist destinations
The Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are British Crown Dependencies, technically not part of the United Kingdom but intrinsically and constitutionally linked. The islands are not members of the European Union but have negotiated special agreements allowing them to benefit from aspects such as free trade, and concessions such as not requiring work permits for EU citizens.
The largest of the Channel Islands, Jersey is situated in the Bay of St. Malo, around 100 miles from the coast of England and only 14 miles from the French coast. It covers 45 square miles and is permanent home to 90,000 people, a number that swells dramatically over the summer tourist season.
Located to the north-west of Jersey, Guernsey is around 70 miles south of England and 30 miles from the coast of Normandy. Covering 25 square miles and home to around 65,000 people, it is also the administrative centre for the smaller Channel Islands of Alderney and Sark.
“The work is varied, interesting and demanding! And the work-life balance is excellent”
- Tourism and Finance
- World-class offshore financial centres
- Islands deliver significant positive impact to the UK economy
- Centre for banking, funds, corporate/ trust services and insurance
- Low taxation
As two of the world’s leading offshore financial centres, it is little surprise that the economies of Jersey and Guernsey are dominated by financial services. More than half of each island’s income is directly related to the sector, with banking, funds and corporate/trust services contributing heavily to GDP. They are home to 40-50 international banks and tens of thousands of companies are registered there.
Less apparent, but no less notable, is the contribution made by the islands to the UK and indeed the global economy. A recent independent report estimated that Jersey alone adds £9bn and supports around 180,000 jobs in Britain, whilst acting as a significant conduit for foreign investment into the mainland.
Combine this with levels of transparency and cooperation which have won plaudits from the British Government, the EU and the OECD, and it becomes clear that the stereotype of the tax-haven is some way from the truth.
The success of these two jurisdictions for well over forty years has fuelled a substantial infrastructure around the finance sector, nowhere more so than amongst its law firms, more of which below.
Outside of finance, tourism is the other major source of income with many thousands of visitors arriving every summer, predominantly from the UK, but increasingly from Continental Europe, to enjoy the islands’ tranquillity, climate (the best in the British Isles) and miles of unspoilt coastline.
The Legal Sector in the Channel Islands
- World leading offshore practices
- Growing market
- Corporate, finance, funds, private wealth and litigation work
In line with the rest of the offshore world, what until a few years ago were two distinct legal markets, are now dominated by firms who span both islands, and indeed some of them, numerous other jurisdictions too. Its largest firms – Mourant Ozannes, Ogier, Bedell Cristin, Carey Olsen and Collas Crill – are on both islands and are amongst the most successful firms in the offshore world.
They have grown rapidly both financially and in terms of head-count and would figure prominently in any list of the world’s leading offshore practices. Beyond the ‘big five’ local firms are a number of the major global offshore firms such as Appleby and Walkers, and some very good boutiques who prosper not least from the frequency with which others can be conflicted out of matters.
In common with all offshore practices, the offices are built on their expertise in Corporate and Finance work, with Investment Funds central to everything, particularly in Jersey. Their capacity in areas suchas Litigation and Private Wealth is strong and the firms are also fielding increasingly impressive teams in Employment and Property. Mixed with the locally trained lawyers are numerous ex-pats with many having left City firms, the big UK nationals and over recent years the best firms in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa.
The Recruitment Market
- Banking and Finance
- Investment Funds
- Commercial Litigation and Insolvency
- Trusts & Private Client
Given the nature of the firms’ practices, the vacancies tend to come up in Banking, Finance, Corporate, Commercial Litigation, Insolvency and Trusts. Opportunities exist at all levels – and senior roles are becoming more common – but by far the most frequent are those in the one to six years’ PQE level. More junior candidates can be sought after if they have great training or particularly relevant experience, especially in an area such as
funds. Moves at a senior level are most likely where someone has a particularly sought after skill-set like funds, has prior offshore experience, or can bring a book of contacts that promises to deliver business.
Whilst City experience is highly valued, it is far from essential and in fact some firms have a real liking for candidates with a background in a good regional firm, commenting that the size of office and nature of the role offshore is more comparable to this than it is to a Magic Circle firm in London. Regardless, if you have good relevant experience in a firm that is recognised in its field, you will find options in the Channel Islands.
“Best decision I have made in terms of career with varied, stimulating levels of work”
Being a Lawyer in the Channel Islands
- High-quality International work
- Valuable offshore experience
- Jersey/Guernsey law
- Excellent work-life balance
- Good salaries
Whilst both Jersey and Guernsey are undoubtedly a world apart from the City, the deals, the cases, and the clients are the same. As a Channel Islands lawyer you will frequently be instructed by major onshore law firms, offering opinions on sometimes very technical aspects of offshore law. The clients are no longer confined to the European region either. Like their onshore counterparts, offshore lawyers are now as likely to find themselves advising on matters with a Middle Eastern, Asian or Latin American dimension as they are to be working on something out of London.
On a day to day basis there will of course be some differences. You will be working on Jersey/Guernsey law for starters, and whilst both are heavily based on English laws there will be differences. You will also notice that the volume of matters you advise
on increases dramatically whilst the elements of the matter that concern you shrink. On the plus side, you can expect to spend less time on the heavyweight documentation than you would do onshore, but on the other hand you will need to be confident juggling a number of demands, and the ability to think on your feet will be priceless.
The work-life balance is one of the things that attract people to a move offshore and it is not a myth. At the risk of slipping into cliché, this is perhaps the ideal work-life move. Nobody will pretend it is an easy ride and lawyers here undoubtedly work hard, but there is little of the ‘jackets on chairs’ culture of staying late that is so prevalent in the largest onshore firms. Furthermore, wherever you live on either island, you won’t have far to commute!
Gross salaries tend to be around mid-City level, but when you take into account the lack of VAT, national insurance at less than half UK levels and a 20% maximum income tax rate you should not be disadvantaged financially unless you are earning New York type rates elsewhere.
“If you are looking for an offshore career then the Channel Islands have excellent professional opportunities”
As a foreign lawyer there will be limitations to what you can sign off and for a litigator, limitations on your court representations (something to consider for Barristers in particular). For most solicitors it will make little difference on a day to day basis but you will still be encouraged to sit for qualification as a Jersey/Guernsey advocate as soon as you become eligible after two/three years’ (respectively) practice on the island.
Work permits are not required for EU residents. For non-EU citizens a work permit application would need to be made on a case by case basis and will be determined by the level of expertise that the candidate brings and the relative availability or lack of that expertise within the existing market. This would typically make it difficult for very junior non-EU lawyers who don’t yet have the experience to distinguish themselves but for most experienced lawyers, if you are being interviewed by a firm then the chances are they are confident they can get the permit.
Both islands have regulations governing the leasing and purchase of property.
In Jersey you will hear people refer to being ‘licensed’ which allows access to the majority of the ‘local market’ accommodation and is applicable where a firm can demonstrate that the person they are hiring is an essential employee. Law firms cannot guarantee success in securing licenses but it is rarely an issue.
In Guernsey you will require an essential employee license which is usually valid for five years. This provides access to the local market housing stock (above a ‘rateable value’ based on your salary) which makes up the vast majority of the island’s accommodation. The firm will advise you on this process as interviews progress.
Overall, everyone recognises that getting your accommodation right
is a vital cog in making the move work so you can rest assured that firms will not only advise you on the regulations, but they will also recommend estate agents to talk to who can give you a practical sense of what would be available and probably even give their local tips on the best places to live!
Jersey typically out performs the UK in terms of secondary school exam results, largely due to the fact that around 55%-60% of students are in either fee-paying or selective education. Within the fee paying sector standards are high. Primary level education is widely considered to be excellent.
Similarly Guernsey has an outstanding reputation for schooling, with both state and fee-paying primary schools considered to be excellent. Selection takes place prior to secondary level meaning that children at 11 can apply to secure a place in a Grammar School or indeed a scholarship to one of the island’s excellent fee paying schools.
The Career Path
People sometimes ask if a move offshore will damage their career. It won’t. Experience gained in a top offshore firm is highly regarded, whether in London, in another offshore market or even inhouse. The nature of the market is such that you will inevitably get extensive exposure to financial services clients, a sector which remains in the highest demand in London and indeed globally.
Of course it does take you in a certain direction and if you return onshore you will need to rebuild your practice before being able to push for Partnership, but it certainly doesn’t close the door.
In fact, many people find the thought of returning onshore unappealing and choose to remain offshore, either aiming for Partnership, every bit as realistic but challenging as onshore, or moving to one of the other centres where the offshore firms proliferate. Cayman, BVI, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai, Mauritius – all are potential next steps for a Channel Islands lawyer, as is the London office of an offshore firm. .
Origin Legal is a specialist legal recruitment company launched in January 2005 by a management team that first came together in 1996. Our international team has been helping lawyers to make life changing moves to the Channel Islands for over fifteen years. We aim to simplify what is a potentially complex move, employing our vast experience to advise on every stage from initial fact finding through to starting at your new firm.
- To find out more take a look at some of the following links:
- Financial Services Commission – www.jerseyfsc.org and www.gfsc.gg
- Finance – www.jerseyfinance.je and www.guernseyfinance.com
- Government – www.gov.je and www.gov.gg
- Media – www.thisisjersey.com and www.thisisguernsey.com
- Tourist Information – www.jersey.com and www.visitguernsey.com
- Legal 500 – www.legal500.com/c/jersey and www.legal500. com/c/guernsey
- Chambers – http://www.chambersandpartners.com/Europe/ Search/Location/120 and http://www.chambersandpartners.com/Europe/Search/Location/101
- Mourant Ozannes – www.mourantozannes.com
- Ogier – www.ogier.com
- Bedell Cristin – www.bedellcristin.com
- Carey Olsen – www.careyolsen.com
- Appleby – www.applebyglobal.com
- Walkers – www.walkersglobal.com
- Collas Crill – www.collascrill.com
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 Channel 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]