Is overseas work experience worth it?
We speak to many PRC lawyers on completion of their LLM and many consider staying in the United States for an extended period of time in order to gain more experience. In this article our consultant Li Ji discusses if gaining additional experience overseas at this stage is a real benefit in the long term.
The decision to gain additional experience in the US is very much dependent on what kind of role a lawyer will be taking and how this complements previous work experience and their ideas for the future path of their career.
What roles to go for?
For those who have already gained legal practice experience at a top international law firm or PRC firm, to get some additional experience in the US , we generally advise to join a reputable firm with good rankings, and to focus on a practice area which can be continued in China later on.
For example, for those who previously practised antitrust law in China, it’s a good idea to stick to this in the U.S. after completing the LL.M., as this kind of experience would be helpful when returning to China. Although it is not easy to find a good opportunity in the current U.S. market and competition is fierce, it is not advisable to go to a lesser known or lower ranking firm or to go to a role that is in a niche practice area with no exposure in China just for the sake of staying overseas. This kind of move could prevent you from getting a new role in China after being away from the Chinese market. (The Chinese legal market calls for cutting edge law firm experience and by being out of the market for a period of time this can be compromised.)
Graduates who moved straight to do the LLM after graduating with an undergraduate law degree or who previously worked in a small firm, the advice above is still applicable. In addition, lawyers with 3-6 years’ PQE who stay in the US run the risk of missing the best window to join a reputable law firm or company in China at the level where they really learn. However, while these candidates may not be able to compete against others with experience from top law firms in China, working in the US does improve English language skills, which may be a plus when looking for a new role within the China legal market.
For lawyers looking to take on an in-house position after completing the LLM, the advice is rather different: overseas experience is not generally beneficial or seen as an advantage to companies in China. Most multinational corporations in China are more interested in the candidates’ relevant work experience, industry knowledge as well as communication skills. However many don’t put as much value on English skills as the top law firms do. At the more junior/middle level, most MNCs are more interested in candidates’ legal skills, stability and market value, rather than overseas experience. Most companies believe that legal experience from western countries holds little value to Chinese in-house legal teams, because they are quite different from each other. Where it does become an advantage is when lawyers are competing at the more senior level; legal head roles for example. This is because these roles require a good understanding of and the ability to adapt to a multi-cultural environment.
Despite all this we recognise that everyone’s circumstances are different. We understand that some candidates would like to experience different cultures without the priority of career development. It is also arguable that while US experience might not always be beneficial right after taking the LLM, in the longer term overseas experience is never a bad thing and can add real value to a CV.
For more information on the current market or to discuss our current opportunities please contact our team.