There is no denying it, there is a certain allure to working as an international lawyer. The perks are numerous: bigger pay-cheques, a new country, travel opportunities etc. But how do you go about pursuing these greener pastures? From someone who has been there, done that and gotten the T-shirt, here are some of my real life tips…
1. Do Your Research
I cannot stress this enough. Please apply the skills you acquired in Legal Research 101 and start doing your homework. Some questions you should be asking are:
Where do I want to go?
Here’s the good news: Australian law graduates are in huge demand. While you will obviously be complying with local laws, your common law background means that opportunities exist in most Commonwealth countries. England is an obvious choice, but Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore are also becoming increasingly popular destinations for Australian lawyers. Be sure to check out the working visa requirements and restrictions that apply for lawyers, there are (a limited few) countries that do not allow foreign lawyers and for those that do, you will usually need to get local qualifications.
What firm should I work for?
Some of the larger Australian firms have branches overseas, but I found that Magic Circle firms, which are the United Kingdom’s five biggest firms, generally present wider choices in terms of destinations. Make a list of firms you’re interested in and get onto their international websites; their careers page will lead you to clerkship or graduate positions available. Set your aim on big international firms, chances are they will be well established in many countries and offer a range of very interesting, cutting-edge work.
2. Set Yourself Apart from Other Candidates
I can only speak from personal experiences, but the majority of my interviews were focused on my travel experience. Think about it, potential employers will have to fork out a substantial amount of money into obtaining visas, accommodation costs, air tickets etc. Before they do that, they will want to see that you are committed into living abroad.
Apply for overseas clerkships, study abroad programs or volunteer work. There are heaps of options for students and I promise; it will place you ahead of the rest. If you speak another language, use that to your advantage and focus your applications accordingly to specific countries. If English is your sole language, it’s probably not a bad idea to start learning Mandarin or Arabic as both languages seem to be in demand nowadays.
3. Be Brave
You will have to rule a few countries out, but there is a whole wide world out there to be seen. Don’t limit yourself too much, cast your net out wide and see what offers come in. I know a 22 year old who was working in a big four accounting firm in WA (not a lawyer, but still relevant). He eventually grew tired of that life and started looking for another job. A week after he turned down a promising offer because it was interstate, his recruiter called with another role overseas. Despite:
Having to look for the country on a map before realising what region in the world it was in,
Being in a long-term relationship, and
Being in the middle of the GFC,
he packed up his bags and found himself in an alien country three months later. That was more than 2 years ago, and he is still there, thriving in his new environment. I hope his story inspires you, because it inspires me.
Making a move overseas is a bold move, so you have to be bold. Try to set aside your prejudices and evaluate every offer, no matter where it comes from. If you’re hesitating because you’re in a relationship, I know of many (myself included) who have made it work, so don’t let that stop you from living your dream!
4. And When You Get There…
If you do find yourself working overseas, be prepared for a thrilling experience. Your first reaction might be to think that it was all a horrible mistake (I know I did), but give yourself time to fall in love with your new home. No, it’s not without its difficulties to deal with a whole new working culture and people altogether, but that is all part and parcel of being an expat.
Good luck, and bon voyage!
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