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Planning your international move

Written by: Sally Gardner, Marsden Group
Published on: 3 May 2016

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If you dream of the high-life in a tax-free location in the Middle East;  fancy working from the sunny shores of the Caribbean or Australia;  aspire to live in a fast paced finance centre like Hong Kong, Tokyo or New York  or long to soak up European culture,   then your chosen profession in law can be your passport.  

For a junior lawyer, an international move can offer the opportunity to fulfill your personal dreams whilst offering unparalleled career opportunities.   You only have to look at the partner lists of the top international law firms to see how many of them have benefited from a step up by working across several jurisdictions.  

It  is usually only international/top local firms which employ foreign qualified lawyers and these firms will only go through the recruitment and work permit/visa process for exceptional individuals with specialist and hard to find experience.

So what do you need to make an international move?

  • Academics - only the best will do and firms usually expect top academics (2.1/equivalent or above) from internationally recognised institutions.
  • Law Firm – experience from a well recognised top tier firm is more likely to attract attention than experience from a niche/boutique or general practice firm.
  • Specialisation –although areas of demand can change reflecting global market conditions, overseas lawyers  with capital markets, corporate, finance, projects, funds, construction and arbitration  experience are generally the most sought after, although we are presently also seeing roles for overseas lawyers in real estate,  insolvency & restructuring and TMT in most jurisdictions.  It is much more difficult to move internationally with a commercial litigation background and notoriously difficult to move from general practice.
  • PQE - there is a relatively small 'transfer window' for lawyers looking to move internationally. The sweet spot is 1-4/5 years pqe . By this time you have some real experience to offer a new employer but not so much to propel you into the partnership race.   
  • Practical experience.  A candidate with solid work experience will be eminently more appealing than one with a series of (albeit impressive) academic qualifications and internships but little practical experience
  • Languages – oral and written fluency (native/business proficient) in a relevant language can assist considerably in your job search, especially when seeking roles across Asia (ex-Singapore) where native speaking candidates will always be the first choice for employers.  

To realise your future dreams as a trainee or a junior lawyer you should plan to make yourself irresistible to future employers. On that basis:-

  • Ensure that you are with a prestigious commercial law firm in a major legal and financial centre; 
  • Steer your career down a non-contentious transactional path or arbitration
  • Bide your time until you have the relevant pqe level and/the market is right
  • Research your destination carefully and assess which jurisdiction best matches your skill set in terms of languages, practice area and just as importantly Visa status.   

Finally, be realistic; look at your experience critically.  If your CV does not tick the right boxes, change it; make an interim move to a more prestigious firm or to a firm in a major finance centre within your own jurisdiction; try to facilitate a practice change either within your own firm or externally ; and finally be prepared to wait until the market is right for your experience. 

Making such changes could ultimately benefit your long term career and prospects whether you make that international move or you opt to progress your career at home.

To discuss an individual market appraisal tailored specifically to you and your career goals, please contact us.

Marsden Group – Legal Search and Recruitment
Marsden Group is a world leading international legal search and recruitment firm with offices in London, Asia, Australia and Canada.

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