Rachel studied Arts/Law before completing a Master of Laws, specialising in international law. She is currently working in Berlin as the in-house counsel for a European agri-foods company operating in Sub-Saharan Africa. Her varied role takes in corporate matters, M&A, employment and even property transactions in Africa. There’s travel, a great view over Berlin and there’s always something to keep her busy.
Before heading to Berlin, Rachel worked in Canberra for the federal government in Department of Agriculture, and most recently, the Australian Agency for International Development in legal and policy roles.
What interested you in working overseas?
Since backpacking for the first time through Europe, I have wanted to live and work in Berlin. My ultimate goal was to gain international legal experience but also improve my German language skills, so my role here is pretty perfect.
What did you find the most difficult part of working as a lawyer overseas?
Of course working in different jurisdictions is difficult and sometimes hard to get your head around, but I have local counsel in each of the countries in which we work to assist. What is probably the biggest challenge of my role is that I am in-house. This means that I need to have a thorough understanding of all areas of the business in order to look out for the company’s interests. I am also working independently most of the time and don’t have the benefits of working in a big legal team to discuss the varying issues that arise.
On the other side, being in-house is a fantastic opportunity which you seldom have the chance to do. I am truly involved in the business and play a role in most elements of it. The variety of work is also something that is a great opportunity. From advising on corporate investment issues to researching driving regulations in Uganda, I am constantly learning new things.
What has been the most rewarding part of your experience working overseas?
Definitely the travel. Not only for work, but also for weekends and holidays because everything is so (comparatively) close. Being in a city with so many expats from all over the world, I also get the chance to work with people from countries I’ve never been to and hear fantastic stories from their home countries. Makes for lively discussion at lunchtimes!
Are there any skills or qualities that you think have benefitted your work or that you’ve had to develop because of your work?
Knowledge of legal principles and the ability to do legal research are very important, but in this kind of work, the ability to multitask and organise is key. There are constantly urgent matters that come up from all areas of the business so being able to prioritise (yes, like you say in all your cover letters) is a daily routine.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for law students or young lawyers who want to work overseas or in international law?
Get yourself overseas. From my experience, being physically here in Berlin was crucial to finding a job, and even that wasn’t easy. Finding a job here took persistence and the right amount of luck.
It’s true that internships are engrained in the European employment mentality. In Germany in any case, students and those fresh out of uni do a lot more (or are expected to do a lot more) internships before they find an ongoing job. I’ve found also that uni graduates are much older when they enter a fulltime job than in Australia, so be prepared for many internship applications when starting out!
Regardless, working overseas is a fantastic opportunity to use your skills. Being a Commonwealth-trained lawyer is something relatively unique in continental Europe and from what I see, a qualification that is becoming much more in demand. Go and test it out!
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