Considering a move abroad
With the days of training, qualifying and retiring at the same firm long gone, there is an increasing acceptance of moves on one’s CV that might have raised eyebrows amongst previous generations of lawyers.
Most firms will, at least at trainee level, offer their staff opportunities to be seconded to overseas offices, but there is an increasing wanderlust among lawyers at different stages of their career.
For those who are considering a move abroad, there are a range of options available, each with their own risks and rewards:
This is often the default option, being widely seen as a “safe” method of spending time abroad without having a firm move on your CV.
While this is true, it’s also important to consider whether there are career development opportunities tied to the secondment. If you’re ultimately coming back to your home office, will it affect your prospects?
Senior Associates often relocate to a newer overseas office with the carrot of future partnership dangled in front of them. However unless there is something in writing about a partnership opportunity (which there almost never is), then it’s a risk to be taken that your backers within the firm don’t have the sway to get you elected.
For a temporary secondment, you may want to consider whether the 6 months/year/two years you spend abroad will essentially stop the clock on your internal promotion prospects.
A lateral move to another law firm:
Within this category there are a number of different options. If you’re qualified to practice in England and Wales then it’s perfectly possible to move to many different countries and continue to practice English law.
Alternatively if you want to move to one of the Offshore jurisdictions, such as the Channel Islands, you will need to practice the relevant law there (which is broadly similar to English law), or you might want to completely re-qualify in an entirely different jurisdiction.
Continuing to practice English law abroad:
In many ways this is similar to an internal secondment or relocation since most of the time those moves will result in you continuing to do broadly the same work as you were doing in your home office.
However the move to another firm may have additional benefits like an instant career uplift or even simply be a means to go abroad which was not open to you at your old firm.
English Law practices are found in outposts all over Europe and the rest of the world. Within this section would be included a move to the Middle East where the majority of work is English-law governed (with DCM/Finance work potentially being less so).
Within this, I include the traditional Offshore jurisdictions such as Jersey, Guernsey, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. By and large, these jurisdictions adopt Common Law principles, while having their own legislation. The result is innovative legal frameworks with a good body of influential (if not binding) case law from England.
The legislation is easy to familiarise yourself with and key documentation like SPAs and loan documentation is virtually identical to Onshore. The result is that by working in these locations you will add a new string to your bow, move somewhere more exotic and earn money in a low- or no-tax jurisdiction.
This can be a permanent or temporary career move, so consider what your plans for the future are.
Generally if you’re good enough to secure an offshore role, you should have no difficulty in moving back Onshore in the future if you want to, but it still worth maintaining your contact network in the UK to ensure that you are aware of the best opportunities available if you choose to move back.
This is by far the most challenging of the option. Often the decision to re-qualify will be due to family or personal circumstances, and it requires significant dedication to achieve. People have made successful moves to many different jurisdictions, but it will often mean having to start from scratch in terms of education, exams and training in order to gain the local qualification. You will then face the challenge of finding a firm that is open to taking you on as an ‘unknown quantity’ without a background in your new practice area.
If you are keen to move abroad, you will also need to consider the impact on your career and how much time, money and energy you want to invest in the process.
Ken is a Senior Legal Recruitment Consultant at Robert Walters, and a former Corporate lawyer who worked in Brussels, Tokyo and the Caribbean during the course of his legal career. He recruits lawyers for Offshore firms in the Channel Islands and Caribbean.
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