International Opportunities for Aus/NZ Lawyers

Previous periods of rapid economic expansion saw both UK and US law firms increasingly turning to the southern hemisphere to recruit talented lawyers, particularly in the corporate and finance areas. The transactional boom in Europe, the growth of the legal services market in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, the opening of the US legal market to Australian/New Zealand qualified lawyers and the resurgence of Asia all benefited Australian and New Zealand lawyers in recent years.

However, since 2008 the global economic situation led to a significant drop in employment opportunities around the world.

UK Market
Central & Eastern European Market
Middle East Market
Asia Market
US Market

UK

The international economic downturn which has taken place since 2008 has meant that the demand for international lawyers in the UK has reduced dramatically. However, the cyclical nature of recruitment and our experience with similar periods of economic turmoil in the past indicate that this will not be permanent.

Despite the reduction in immediate opportunities, Australian/New Zealand lawyers are still held in high regard by the international market and, once the market improves, they will again be a promising recruitment target for the world’s largest law firms.

During this slower period, the emphasis on the quality of academic qualifications and practical experience becomes ever more important.  Some firms in the UK are viewing 2010 and 2011 as a time to invest, and so, for the very best Australasian lawyers, there will remain some opportunities in the London market.  However, the standard is extremely high and firms are very specific in their requirements.  Accordingly, those lawyers seeking to move to London will still need to meet the rigid requirements of the major firms through having an excellent academic background and, ideally, top tier firm experience. Of course, those lawyers from highly regarded boutique practices with excellent experience would also be considered, particularly in transactional disciplines.

Central & Eastern Europe

As the countries of the former Soviet Union developed and, in some cases, joined the European Union, opportunities arose for Australian and New Zealand lawyers to move to cities such as Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest, Bucharest, Bratislava, Sofia, Almaty and Prague.

Recently this region has been significantly affected by the economic situation and the number of opportunities available for lawyers has greatly reduced.

However, the UK and US firms in these areas do have opportunities for lawyers with 3-6 years’ post admission experience in fields such as:

  • Corporate
  • Projects & project finance
  • Energy
  • Banking
  • Capital markets

Whilst language skills are not always a necessity in these locations, it is worth mentioning that language skills will help prospective candidates to stand out from other applicants. The requirements for strong experience and a good academic record are still necessary for those seeking to move to these burgeoning cities.

Middle East

The demand for lawyers in the Middle East was previously extremely high with cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi playing increasingly prominent and interactive roles in the contemporary global market.

That said, the region has not been immune from the economic situation and in 2010, it is countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait where recruitment has been strongest.

Demand is still good for lawyers with strong experience in the following areas:

  • Securitisation, debt and equity capital markets,  derivatives, acquisition finance, structured finance, asset finance and general banking
  • M&A / corporate, corporate finance and private equity
  • Islamic finance
  • Project finance, PFI and PPPs
  • Construction, energy and projects
  • IT and outsourcing

The ability to speak Arabic is extremely advantageous but not a necessity.

The high standards set by the leading US and UK law firms and companies remain paramount.  Lawyers seeking to move to the Middle East will need to have strong academic backgrounds and, ideally, top tier or mid-tier law firm experience. International legal experience is also highly advantageous.

Asia

The legal market in Asia has undoubtedly felt the impact of the economic situation in the rest of the world. However, relatively speaking, the Asian market remains steady with many of the UK and US law firms having one or more expanding offices in the region. However, the range of roles on offer is not as varied as in the UK, and demand is centred around corporate and finance experience.

Candidates with strong experience in the following areas will have the best chance of moving to a major Asian city:

  • Insolvency/Reconstruction
  • Project finance, PFI and PPPs
  • Financial services litigation
  • Energy projects

Language skills are highly valued in Asia.  For positions in Beijing and Shanghai, the ability to work in Mandarin is often necessary, although positions for lawyers with no additional language skills do arise regularly.  Mandarin skills are less essential for working in Hong Kong but are still highly sought after and are becoming more important.

Language skills are not needed in Singapore.  Japanese is extremely useful (although not always required) for positions in Tokyo.

Again, the emphasis on the quality of academic qualifications and practical experience remains important for those seeking roles in Asia.  Therefore, candidates will need to have an excellent academic background and, ideally, mid-tier or large firm experience.

Asia has the advantage of being considerably closer to home for Australians and New Zealanders, making it an attractive option for those seeking international experience.

US

The US (New York in particular) has remained a difficult market for Antipodean lawyers to enter during 2010 as the effects of the economic situation have impacted the US legal profession significantly.   Added to this, the emphasis on quality academics and experience is as high, if not higher, than anywhere else in the world.  Candidates looking to move must have at least the equivalent of an upper second class honours degree and, ideally, experience in a leading corporate firm.

For successful candidates, US firms offer relocation packages and financial support to complete the relevant Bar exam.

For lawyers thinking of moving overseas, please contact Rebecca Rogers.

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