Whilst it can be hard to remember the pre-coronavirus days when crossing an international border was a fairly anodyne affair, it’s worth remembering that there’s a whole world out there beyond our bedroom-bathroom-kitchen “commutes”. Having recently made the move to Jersey as a newly qualified English solicitor, I wanted to share my experiences of relocation and offer some top tips to those of you who might be considering similar opportunities further afield.
I’ve had an awareness of possibly working in more than one country for some time. I grew up in Singapore before heading to England for university, so this initially started as a conversation in my own mind of whether to return home to become a Singaporean lawyer or to qualify as a solicitor in England. I pursued the latter option and went on to train with a magic circle firm in London before qualifying as a disputes lawyer. During my training contract I completed a seat in my former firm’s Paris arbitration team and, as expected, this further heightened my curiosity about international possibilities for junior common law qualified disputes lawyers.
Relocating isn’t always a straightforward decision. I decided to join the litigation team of offshore firm Carey Olsen in Jersey. I did this because of the quality of the firm’s clients and work; the opportunity to take on more responsibility within a leaner team; its strong links with the London market – allowing me to build upon my legal knowledge and broaden my skills set; the fresh air and beautiful landscape; and indeed the lack of commute.
We’re all individuals, meaning any considerations before committing to a move should be personal to you. So, a preliminary step is thinking about what you want from your career in the short, medium and long-term. You may wish to canvass opinions from trusted contacts but please be mindful of inaccurate or throw away comments from individuals who might dismiss your ideas as being pie in the sky etc. With this in mind, I’d recommend doing your homework and doing some proper fact-checking before submitting applications.
Shortlist your jurisdictions
Opportunities exist in surprising locations. For a junior English qualified solicitor, of course there are some jurisdictions that are naturally more receptive to your experience than others. Your CV is likely to gain more traction in a common law jurisdiction than a civil law one. Related to this are local immigration rules and the size, maturity and focus of the relevant legal market, which affects the extent of the crossover of transferable skills that you would bring to the table. Some practice areas lend themselves to an international move more than others. For example, it would be harder (but not impossible) for a tax lawyer to move internationally than a corporate private equity or funds lawyer. And don’t forget local political and economic considerations, particularly in light of the COVID19 pandemic.
Also, think about where you would be comfortable living: would you like to remain relatively close to home, or do you want to explore somewhere further afield? Do you already have contacts or language skills that would make it easier to adapt to a certain location? Professionally, ask yourself: is a certain legal market well-regarded for your practice area? For example, if you want to work on energy sector project finance, then Dubai could be a great market to consider.
A final note on moving jurisdictions is that local requalification is not typically expected at the outset, but it is likely your team will mention this to you eventually. This can be more or less straightforward: with Ireland and some Caribbean jurisdictions, this is often a question of filling in a few forms. With Hong Kong and New Zealand, there’ll be exams to pass, among other things. Australian legal admission is a state affair; states often assess requalification on a case-by-case basis. In contrast, Singapore only permits citizens and permanent residents (who have studied law at one of 30 specified universities worldwide) to get full practising certificates, so expatriate lawyers there instead usually register as foreign lawyers with the relevant regulator.
Start your search
As is the case in England, most notable firms worldwide typically work with recruitment agencies. Many of the large recruitment agencies that are active in England do have international offices or, minimally, have agents based in London who are active in overseas jurisdictions. It is preferable but not essential that your chosen agent(s) spend at least a significant part of each year in your jurisdiction of interest: if they don’t, it’s hard to see how they would’ve built strong relationships with relevant hiring partners, or gained in-depth insights into those markets. If you were interested in, say, Australia, then a Sydney-based recruiter who deals exclusively with the Australian market might have better local knowledge but do ensure they understand and value your existing experience. If possible, speak to contacts in the jurisdiction beforehand.
In terms of the actual application process, most successful applications worldwide would follow the same pattern as in England:
- agent sends hiring partner your CV
- first-round interview (either with partners or senior associates)
- second-round interview (with partners, including the actual hiring partner)
- there might be a semi-formal third-round interview where you meet the wider team
There can be additional steps involved, although these tend to be firm-specific rather than jurisdiction-specific. If a certain role requires certain language skills, you might be given a language test (certain Hong Kong teams have been known to ask applicants to do Chinese-to-English translation exercises, for example). Other firms use online psychometric testing, which you might recall from your training contract applications. Another possibility is being asked to do a written test to demonstrate your writing style and/or legal research and analysis.
In addition to the usual interview preparation steps, you should further reflect on the reasons for your interest in the location and your commitment to that market. You should also gain an awareness of important differences in the legal system and legal market in that location compared to your jurisdiction of qualification. For me, I found it fascinating to learn how many important areas of Jersey and Guernsey law are derived from the customary law of Normandy.
A key question is whether you should do your interviews face-to-face or via videoconference. It is easier to have a more natural conversation and build rapport when speaking face-to-face. However, with or without COVID-19, flying to somewhere like Hong Kong from London for an hour-long interview just does not make sense. Personally, I flew to the Channel Islands from Paris and did multiple interviews over three days. My agent very helpfully co-ordinated these, and ensured that each firm I interviewed with paid a proportionate share of my accommodation and flight expenses for the trip. Having the chance to interview face-to-face and to then have lunch with members of the wider team was a valuable and helpful way for us to get to know each other.
In my next blog, I’ll discuss the “offer” and practicalities of making the move.
Christopher Tan is an associate in the litigation team of Carey Olsen in Jersey. He works on a wide range of complex cross-border commercial disputes but has a particular interest in the financial services sector.