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Things to consider before working abroad

Posted by: Laurence Simons 11/08/14

For many lawyers the prospect of working overseas may appeal greatly. Like people in a range of professions, this could be for a variety of reasons, from lifestyle and climate to the potential remuneration, the location of loved ones and even the specific challenges presented by the kinds of cases the laws of certain lands will throw up. 

 

Different legal challenges

Moving from one jurisdiction to another does bring challenges, of course, as it means becoming versed in a different legal system to that in which one may initially have been trained. This can happen within nation states - for example, between Scottish law and England/Wales - or between different US states. However, it is also worth noting that some laws cross national boundaries, such as EU legislation and international treaties.

These variants will have a range of implications. For example, a competition lawyer who is versed in the application of EU legislation can apply this expertise anywhere. By contrast, in some places substantial retraining may be required, where something that is illegal in one jurisdiction may be permitted in another. 

Who to work for?

One obvious way in which overseas jobs in law may be sought is to start out by being employed by an international firm, who may be very happy to offer a chance to move to other countries as part of the career progression one could enjoy. For many, it could be very enticing to work for a global firm in London in the knowledge that there may be a chance down the line to move to an exciting location such as New York or Sydney.

A question for UK-based workers is whether the larger international law firms offer the best opportunity. In one sense, the answer is yes, as four of the ten largest companies are British. Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Allen & Overy were all listed among the top grossing firms by the American Lawyer in its 2013 list of the largest law firms in the world.

Big may not be best

However, a big company may not necessarily be the best one to work for. Firstly, by their very name and stature such companies will inevitably have more interest in their vacancies, will do a lot of headhunting and generally recruit staff at the top of their game. As such, getting into them may not be so easy, even if the top 100 did add 4,000 new lawyers to their payrolls in 2012 alone. Besides that, anyone restricting their job search just to the top international companies may be missing out on other chances with smaller firms. 

Speaking our language

Anyone who peruses what jobs are available in other countries will see that there are opportunities, particularly for those with the right language skills. Candidates who speak a second language are always in high demand and can use this to their advantage when negotiating compensation packages.

Those with such skills may have acquired them through strong family or ancestral ties to such areas, which would be a distinct advantage, as it will also facilitate a good understanding of culture and lifestyle that will be as important to understanding life and custom in such locations as knowing the nuances of the law itself.