INTERNATIONAL LEGAL CAREER ADVICE FOR NEWLY QUALIFIED SOLICITORS, TRAINEES AND JUNIOR LAWYERS
As law firms continue to invest in their international networks, growing team sizes means increased demand for junior level support. Opportunities overseas have rarely been better, but at this level it remains an unpredictable, and in some locations highly competitive market. It helps to be well prepared and so below are our thoughts on some of the questions we are asked most frequently by junior lawyers with international aspirations.
TOP ONSHORE AND OFFSHORE LOCATIONS FOR NQs SEEKING INTERNATIONAL LEGAL CAREER
The most active onshore locations are the Middle East, Singapore, and to an extent Hong Kong, although all are heavily competitive given that relatively few roles come up at NQ level. The outlook improves significantly once you have one years’ experience under your belt. Occasional opportunities exist in Continental Europe, but language skills are usually required.
In the offshore sector, demand is high in the top-tier firms, particularly in the Channel Islands where there are no ‘PQE’ restrictions and, with the firms having few internal trainees, lots of junior vacancies. Jersey and Guernsey are popular locations in their own right but they also provide a strong platform for a subsequent move to the Caribbean or an offshore firm in Asia.
WHAT DO INTERNATIONAL FIRMS LOOK FOR IN NEWLY-QUALIFIED SOLICITORS?
There is no one answer but there are some common trends. Tick the following six boxes and you can start packing your bags; hit three or four and you are in a strong position; even a couple – such as Mandarin and strong academics – might open doors.
1. Your current firm
The bigger its reputation the better – international roles usually go to applicants from big UK, US or Global law firms. Top-tier boutique experience can also be attractive, and the offshore firms are happy to look at people from leading UK regional firms.
2. Your practice area
Research locations well in advance to find out which practice areas are in demand and steer your training/experience in the right direction. Corporate, Banking & Finance and Dispute Resolution travel anywhere; Energy, Projects, Construction, TMT, Shipping and Insurance are in demand in the Middle East and Asia but less so offshore. Funds, Trusts/Private Client, and Property tend to fit better offshore than onshore.
3. International experience/languages
Relevant language skills or prior experience of living in your target market, for example a secondment, are major assets, but a lack of it need not rule you out. If you don’t have connections to the area be ready to explain in detail, why you are interested, as firms will need to be convinced that you are committed.
As with top firms in the UK, they tend to look for 2:1 or above. If your academics fall short of this but you tick every other box it may not hold you back but be prepared to justify why.
5. Relevant sector experience
Energy, projects or construction sector experience can be a major asset in the Middle East and Asia. Financial services experience likewise offshore. Think about the client base in your target market and aim to develop relevant sector experience.
6. Personal characteristics
You are likely to work in a smaller team, have greater client contact, and more responsibility sooner. Hiring Partners for international roles will invariably look for team players with initiative and strong communication skills, who exhibit an adaptable ‘can do’ attitude to business.
WHAT IF I DON’T MEET THE CRITERIA?
It is not easy to make an international move on qualification. Many roles require some experience, and in the onshore sector, those which don’t are often filled with internal applicants. Nevertheless, each year we help NQ lawyers to make the international switch.
If you’re not one of the lucky ones, there is no reason to give up hope. It may be that you need to get a little post-qualification experience first or it may just require a bit of patience until the right role comes up. Equally, for some, it may be the case that you would benefit from an interim step. Training at a good regional firm in Manchester may not be an immediate ticket to your dream life in Dubai for example, but it may get you a foot in the door at a big name like DLA or Eversheds. A couple of years on and you will be in a far stronger position.
HOW WILL AN INTERNATIONAL JOB IMPACT MY LEGAL CAREER?
International experience has never been more respected than it is now. Contrary to the outdated view that a stint overseas was akin to a working holiday, it is now seen as a major asset in most Global law firms. Making the move early allows you to take on more responsibility and progress far quicker than might be the case in a large team at HQ and also gives you plenty of time to decide where your longer term career lies before issues like Partnership arise. Junior experience in the offshore sector is well-respected in the City as well as offering the perfect platform for building an international career within the offshore sector.
WHAT'S INVOLVED IN AN INTERNATIONAL LEGAL INTERVIEW?
All firms we work with are experienced in hiring and relocating lawyers from overseas. They provide both financial and personal assistance in making the move, covering everything from the cost of shipping your belongings to advice on where you might want to live. Interviews are usually done by video conference or skype initially, with some firms following up with a visit to the location whilst others are happy to hire remotely.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE?
This will depend on the firm and on work-permit requirements in the market. It will also take into account your circumstances and notice period, but as a rule we would say three to six months from interview to commencement is normal. It can happen more quickly at NQ level where one is not subject to a notice period.
Note that the timing of NQ roles can be a factor in the international sector. Offshore firms have relatively few internal trainees and so usually move early on NQ recruitment (sometimes six-months+ prior to qualification). Onshore firms in places like the Middle East and Asia will usually have to complete their internal processes first so NQ roles here typically hit the market later in the cycle.
WHAT IS THE CATCH?
For the right person, the drawbacks are negligible. Make sure you have fully considered the implications of being away from friends and family and that you are robust enough to put up with the inevitable challenges that come with relocating. New locations might look irresistible from afar but everywhere has its drawbacks; whether it’s fog in Jersey or hurricane season in the Caribbean, traffic in Dubai or the heat in Singapore, nowhere is perfect. Knowing any downsides in advance, even if they are relatively minor, all helps to make your move a success.
WHAT SHOULD I DO NEXT?
Get some advice as early as possible, ideally from us! Even if you’re thinking a couple of years down the track, we are happy to chat and advise you on how best to position yourself for a move. If your plans are imminent, we can offer advice on the market, the process and packages, as well as current vacancies.
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.