Time flies, doesn’t it? No sooner have you navigated your way through the bun fight that is securing a training contract, than you find yourself approaching qualification with the heady mix of excited anticipation and perhaps the slight fear of a career cliff-edge. For many, this is decision time, and the questions abound. Internal application or time for a change? What practice area should I devote myself to for the next 40 years? And for some, what about working overseas?
As the international team at Origin Legal, we inevitably have some strong views on the latter, but in truth, it won’t be for everyone. If you think an international move might appeal to you, either as an NQ or at some point in the future, this short guide might be worth a read.
Moving overseas as an NQ – The offshore market
As we enter 2022, the demand for lawyers in the offshore sector is strong. In over two decades of international legal recruitment, few years have defied expectations like the last one and this shows no signs of abating. At the time of writing, active recruitment for March is already underway and it won’t be long before roles for September start to feed through. As always, demand is strongest in corporate, banking and finance, investment funds, financial services, trusts and commercial litigation, so a seat in one or more of these will be a big advantage.
With Cayman and Bermuda requiring that overseas lawyers have three years’ PQE (to grant a work permit), Jersey and Guernsey remain the jurisdictions of choice for NQs entering the offshore world. These are no poor relations; what the Channel Islands might lack in exotic appeal, they more than make up for by offering that rare combination of big-ticket international work, good money, and genuine work-life balance. Join a top firm here and you can expect to get real hands-on involvement and client contact far earlier than might be the case in an equivalent City outfit, ideal if you are keen to fast-track your development. In the longer term, your experience will be prized by top UK firms should you decide to return home, although many more choose to build a career in the offshore world, either within the Channel Islands or further afield in the Caribbean (where a 3 years’ PQE lawyer can expect to earn around £110k tax-free).
Starting salaries with the leading firms are around £65k with 20% tax (plus bonus, relocation, and benefits package), and the advantages of island life are manifold. It is a friendly place, easy to settle and ideal for anyone who fancies a more outdoors, coastal lifestyle without compromising their career path. See the Origin Legal Guide to Living and Working in the Channel Islands
Moving overseas as an NQ – The onshore market
Moving to the international office of a big UK or US law firm as an NQ is not straightforward. Openings can be unpredictable as many roles target applicants with at least one or two years’ PQE, while those roles where a junior is required will often go to internal applicants who have been seconded to the team as a trainee.
It is certainly not impossible - the general market is good in Asia-Pacific and improving in the Middle East after a quiet year or two – but there is no single jurisdiction which is so buoyant that we would forecast widespread NQ recruitment. Rather vacancies tend to arise on an ad-hoc basis, and typically later in the day when firms own internal processes are finalised. For these reasons, we would always advise having other ‘irons in the fire’.
Still, there always is and will undoubtedly be opportunities across all these locations so if you have strong credentials, and particularly if you have relevant international exposure or language skills, it is well worth registering your interest. The roles that do come up will be among the most attractive opportunities in the market. Packages tend to be lucrative, the quality of work is consistently good, and the exposure you get as a junior in a small team is exceptional, not to mention the personal growth of living in another country. Even if it doesn’t work out immediately, we can still advise you on how to position yourself now to make your next move an international one. See our Origin Legal Guide to Building an International Legal Career
Preparing an international cv
Given the competitive nature of the NQ market, it is vital that you get your application right. All too often we read long CV’s with only minimal information about the most important, relevant stages of experience.
Three key pieces of advice; (1) keep the format simple and consistent, (2) devote the majority of space to your most relevant seats/experience, and (3) include a profile that references your motivations and any international exposure. See the Origin Legal Guide to Writing an NQ CV for an International Move
Sounds good, but is it too risky?
As a trainee approaching qualification you will have worked hard to get to this stage. It is no surprise that you want to make sure this is not a career cul-de-sac. Fortunately, we have bags of evidence to show that there is no danger of you being ‘stuck’ abroad.
With some careful planning (the right practice, a known firm, and a well-respected jurisdiction), this is a career enhancing move which can offer rapid exposure to some defining work. This piece relates to the offshore market - If I move offshore, will I be able to come back? - but applies in equal measure to someone working overseas for an onshore firm.
If you would like to find out more, we would love to hear from you, just contact Jason or Charlotte on the details below. And don’t worry if you are still unsure about the move, we are happy to help with your fact-finding process. We are not here to sell you the dream – even if we wanted to, our clients wouldn’t thank us for introducing applicants who are not serious!
Resources you may like
Hong Kong is one of the most sought after destinations in the world for lawyers seeking an international move but is it for you? Find out more about life as a lawyer
Seeking a better work/life balance and see the Caribbean as the answer? Here’s what it’s like for a lawyer on this small island.
Are you thinking about moving internationally? Read on for our essential guide for lawyers embarking on an international career move.
Offshore work gives you sun, sea and an international portfolio of work, but is it for you?
The British Virgin Islands is an idyllic place to live, but what is their legal sector like? Find out more about life as a lawyer in BVI here.
Dubai has a well-deserved reputation as the commercial and tourism hub of the Middle East, and life as an expat lawyer here can be highly rewarding, both personally and professionally.