Opinion | 28-10-14

Offshore - is the grass really greener?

The lure of working offshore is certainly nothing new. Lawyers around the globe have understood for some time now the benefits that a stint in one of the world’s most beautiful locations can do for their career. However, many are sceptical and wonder if the perceived benefits are too good to be true. We caught up with a few lawyers who recently made the move and here he highlights what attracted them, and others like them, offshore and if, in reality, the grass is greener.  

With so many international options, what is the number one attraction?

Every lawyer who moves offshore has their own individual motivations for doing so. However, the overwhelming theme and biggest attraction is most definitely the lifestyle on offer. This goes against the popular belief that lawyers move to places like the Cayman Islands, the BVI, Bermuda or the Channel Islands simply for the money. While it is true that salaries are on par with those in the City of London and the tax rates in these locations are low, ranging from 0% up to a maximum of 20%, there are a number of other locations, such as Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore with low tax rates and similar salaries that simply do not have the same draw. 

Many of the lawyers we speak to are ultimately looking for a change of pace from the City. Given that by law, UK lawyers have to have at least three years’ PQE to practice in offshore jurisdictions, the Channel Islands being the exception, the majority of those who do make the move have worked for a number of years in the hustle and bustle of the City and the opportunity to make a complete lifestyle change is very attractive. It is for this reason that the low tax rate cities of Asia and the Middle East are just not enough, with many arguing that the pace of life in these places is just too similar to London. 

What is life really like? 

It is safe to say that all offshore jurisdictions offer a shorter working day. Although both the office and billable hours tend to be similar to London, commute times are much shorter, ranging from a stroll along the beach to a short 15 minute drive. 

There is certainly an avid outdoors culture, with many of the Caribbean locations having beautiful beaches, golf courses and alfresco restaurants. This means that the hours spent away from the office can be taken up with outdoor activities such as water sports, diving and sailing, which is certainly a big draw for those lawyers with young families. And with the extra cash left over as a result of the low tax rates, families have more disposable income to spend on leisure, as well as to put towards nest eggs for their return to the UK. 

The atmosphere inside the office of an offshore firm is very different to that of those in London. These offices tend to be smaller, with fewer staff, and lawyers will generally find that everyone knows each other and so there is an active social scene. Lawyers will get to know one another much more quickly and spend an increased amount of time together outside the office as part of the thriving expat community. 

All these benefits sound great, but surely lawyers must compromise on the quality of work? 

The quality of work is frequently at the same level as the work enjoyed by onshore colleagues. All offshore jurisdictions are based on English common law, but when working at the offshore end of the deal, lawyers will find that there are different priorities and considerations, keeping things interesting and challenging. The quality of work is still outstanding as some of the world’s largest businesses carry out work in the region. For example, Bermuda is seen as a leading reinsurance centre and Cayman and the BVI thrive on funds work. Gaining experience like this is excellent for a lawyer’s CV, making a stint offshore highly beneficial in the longer term.  

Generally a lawyer working offshore will be expected to work on a much broader variety of matters. With fewer team members it is important that lawyers are confident undertaking work outside their usual remit. Many of the lawyers we speak to feel that this is one of the biggest reasons to move offshore. 

What is the current market like and what opportunities are available? 

The Cayman Islands continue to be the busiest jurisdiction, given their prominence in the offshore market (almost half of the top 30 offshore firms have a Cayman office). However, the rest of the market is busy and there is a recruitment appetite from a variety of firms across all the offshore locations. Many of our clients are actively looking to hire in the corporate finance, banking, funds and trusts areas. 

In the past, firms were more likely to take on lawyers who were a little bit more qualified, generally at the six plus PQE level; however, over recent years we have seen averages drop. With three years’ experience now being the magic number, there are more opportunities available for junior to mid-level lawyers at the 3-10 years’ PQE level.

Essentially working offshore really does have it all. Lawyers have access to the highest quality work set against a backdrop of a much improved quality of life.  This is truly a winning combination. With the buoyant recruitment market continuing and winter in the northern hemisphere just around the corner (for many the thought of waking up in 30 degrees, guaranteed sunshine, might be just enough of a reason), now is an excellent time to assess your options. 

If you are interested in knowing more about making a move to any of the offshore jurisdictions please contact us on +44 (0)20 7187 7400