Opinion | 29-07-14

What does London and the UK hold for Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers?

Making a move to the UK from Australia and New Zealand is certainly not a new phenomenon. For decades this group of lawyers has realised the advantages of broadening their working horizons. However, after a quieter period with depressed demand, there are now more opportunities than ever in London. In this article Marc Needoff outlines what’s currently hot in the market and what Australian and New Zealand lawyers can expect in the UK. 

Over the last 12 months the UK economy has been on an upward trajectory, leaving the shadow of the banking crisis in its wake. Law firms in London, and the strong regional centres, have seen transactional deal flow pick up at a rate not seen for almost a decade. Many have found their teams so stretched that they have had to flesh out their associate ranks and with this has come an increase in the number of opportunities available for Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers. The synergy between these common law jurisdictions and the UK means that a transition can be fairly seamless. 

Shilton Sharpe Quarry has excellent relationships with all the leading UK, US and international firms based in the UK and around the world, and we are regularly told by clients that they warmly welcome Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers because of the high quality training, excellent experience and international outlook that they bring. 

What are the options available?

Making a move half way around the world can be daunting. However, the London market is home to lawyers at all levels from junior associates to established partners from Australasia and, with a vibrant community across the city, these lawyers do not have to go far to find signs of home. There is a large ex-pat community which dominates West London, Aussie rules football is available on TV and Vegemite is on sale in supermarkets. This, coupled with the high quality, international legal work on offer, make London an obvious destination of choice. 

Remuneration always plays a key role in any move abroad and can often be the motivating factor. Most lawyers will find that a move to the UK will mean an uplift in salary, as firms in London pay packages of some 15-50% higher than those in Australia and New Zealand. For these lawyers there are a wide variety of roles on offer, giving exposure to a variety of clients and deal types.  Currently, the majority of roles are transactional in nature; banking and finance, corporate, construction, funds, real estate, regulatory and TMT are particularly busy, but commercial, employment and IP are all starting to follow suit.  Additionally, the areas which were taking longer to bounce back, such as commercial litigation and other contentious practices, are now picking up. 

The UK interim and contract market also opens up a wealth of opportunity and is often an attractive avenue for lawyers through which to further their careers. This market is fast moving and gives overseas candidates the chance to secure a role quickly, while at the same time, giving them the chance to experience working in the UK by temping/contracting in various positions. Our interim and contract business, SSQ Interim Solutions, is experiencing high demand for Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers, particularly because of their ability to hit the ground running and their willingness to work in short term contract positions. 

What else needs to be considered? 

On the whole, there are very few negatives associated with relocating to the UK. Indeed, many of the top practices in Australia and New Zealand see a stint in London as a rite of passage and, when returning home, many lawyers find themselves to be a much more attractive candidate to local firms. 

However, for lawyers thinking about making the move, it is important to consider the logistics and the long term career implications: 

1.  UK immigration is governed by complex legislation and it is crucial to understand what is required in order to gain the right to work in the UK. Unless you hold a British or EU Passport or are married to a British national you are likely to require a visa. If you are looking for more information should visit https://www.gov.uk/check-uk-visa/y/australia

2.  All Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers need to readjust their PQE levels when making a move to the UK. In order to make a more equal system and allow for Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers to be fairly measured against their UK counterparts, UK law firms typically disregard around two years of post admission experience. This is to take account of the fact that all lawyers in the UK have been through a two year training contract before they are deemed fully qualified. 

3.  For lawyers wanting to make the UK home in the longer term, it can be advantageous to seek admission to the Roll of Solicitors of England & Wales. To do this, lawyers need to pass the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS). The QLTS ensures that a lawyer qualified in another jurisdiction has met the standard of knowledge and skill required of a newly qualified solicitor of England & Wales. 

Overall, now is a great time for Australian and New Zealand qualified lawyers to make a move to London. There is top quality work on offer and a vibrant community that quickly makes anyone feel at home. As the market continues to gain momentum, we expect that opportunities across the spectrum will continue to increase and by the end of the year top quality candidates will be able to have their pick of firms and roles. 

For more information on the opportunities currently available or to discuss how relocating to London could benefit your career please contact Marc Needoff.