Australia and the UK have a special relationship, we hold a number of shared values, speak the same language, are developed democratic countries that have both benefited from economic prosperity. While the typical middle-aged Brit with a family might move to Australia for a better quality of life and undeniably much nicer weather, a consistent stream of educated young Australians lawyers and business professionals move to London each year for the experience, access to a much bigger market and in most cases more money.
Australian lawyers have a wonderfully positive stereotype in the London legal market of being hard working and straightforward. As long as the legal sector stays active there will be a need for high calibre Australian lawyers within it.
If you are an Australian lawyer thinking about making the move, how can you make it happen?
Step 1, Be realistic
The starting point for any move is looking at the facts to help understand what opportunities might be available for you.
The legal and academic career background you have will shape the opportunities you are able to access in any market. If you have poor academics and are at an unknown boutique firm in Australia, elite firms in London will not consider you as a viable candidate. If you are practicing a niche area of law that is specific to Australia it is unlikely to translate well to the market here in London. Similarly, if you are very senior or junior or have moved a lot, manage your expectations based on what is realistically achievable for you as an individual.
Most of the Australian lawyers I interact with are in corporate, or finance and want top of the market US law firm or Magic Circle experience and compensation, they are at decent firms with solid academics. This goal is often achievable, remember, the more prestigious your background the greater the likelihood of securing a role at a topflight law firm here in London.
Step 2, Complete your research
Research not just law firms that appeal to you but which recruiter you want to work with and the relocation process as a whole.
Practicalities like whether sponsorship is needed are important considerations. For instance there is a tier 5 mobility visa that helps those (Australian national) lawyers aged under 30 to live and work in the UK for 2 years. This has fairly easy criteria to satisfy, in many instances this is preferential to sponsorship which most law firms will do for the right candidate but is a more lengthily and arduous process if there is a simpler solution available.
Choosing a recruiter to work with may not be a conscious decision you make; someone may call you with an opportunity that sounds interesting and before you know it you are in one or more hiring process. If possible, take a step back and consider how you would like to work together on this important move. It is helpful to work with a single recruiter that has very broad access to a variety of firms rather than multiple individuals (often with competing interests) who are siloed into working with arbitrary law firm groupings. The person you work with should understand what you are looking for and present a clear and systematic method for making applications and introductions. Records should be kept so you know who has seen your CV and the outcome of those applications.
Step 3, Overcome the challenges
The majority of lawyers keen on moving to London will be in their 20s or early 30s, there are a number of reasons for this which I won’t delve into here but if you are a lawyer further down the path in your career you may find more obstacles preventing your move that are worth researching fully before you commit.
The most frequent Australia to London move for a lawyer is from one law firm to another, this is called a lateral associate hire. If you are already an in-house lawyer it will be harder to move, if you need sponsorship it is an additional obstacle, the sheer distance and time difference mean the interview processes will be more of a challenge.
However, if you have realistic expectations about what you might achieve with a move, have researched the law firms to apply to and found a solid recruitment partner to work with almost no challenge is insurmountable given enough time and the right approach.
There are always challenges in life, however, it is a truism that those tasks most difficult to achieve are the most rewarding. London offers a lot to ambitious Australian lawyers keen to forge an international career, many go on to build permanent lives here making partner at a firm or moving in house and gaining a different perspective on the law.
The inbuilt network of those that have travelled the path before you and our shared values and culture make the transition from Australia to London far more straightforward than almost any other international relocation for a lawyer.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region from London.