What Antipodean lawyers need to know before moving to the UK

Antipodeans and travel go hand-in-hand, we have an adventurous streak in us, and, like me many have made the move to the UK for work. The chances are that you will have friends, family or half your home town in London telling you about the benefits of making the move. There is obviously a lot to consider and arrangements to be made before attempting a move but the good news is that the timing is great. The legal market has well and truly recovered from the global financial crisis making the move to London all the more enticing. 
Hamish Drake, Consultant at Michael Page Legal made the move in 2015 having spent time as a banking and finance lawyer at leading national and global firms. Despite having left practice Hamish remains very much a part of the industry in his capacity as a trusted advisor to qualified lawyers wanting to work in top UK and US law firms in London. Here he outlines the key considerations for Antipodean lawyers wanting to make the move over and take that next step: 

1. Are you eligible?

The first thing to consider is your visa application. The UK government have an online tool which you can use to check what sort of visa you will need dependent on your plans. There are three types of visa which Antipodeans will typically require to work in the UK:
  • Ancestry visa – For those that can prove that their grandparents were born in the UK, this visa will allow you to work in the UK for five years with the right to extend thereafter.
  • Tier five youth mobility visa – The majority of people who arrive in the UK for work will do so on a tier five visa. It allows you to work in the UK for up to two years. You are required to apply before your 31st birthday and need to have at least £1,890 in personal savings.
  • Tier two sponsorship – Whilst mandatory for some from the outset, sponsorship for Antipodeans is generally something you will be offered once you have secured and excelled in skilled employment. Whilst more difficult to obtain than other visas, most good lawyers working for firms shouldn’t experience too many issues in securing sponsorship.

2. What type of work is available?

This really depends upon your experience, skill-set and how effectively you approach the market. There are a few functions which lawyers new to the UK typically start out with:
  • Paralegal – Typically paralegal positions are the lowest paying roles and entail much of what a trainee would do – research, documentation, preparation and proof reading. These roles are advertised either directly by law firms or via recruitment agents.  
  • Document review contract – The most lucrative of the tempting options, document review is a popular choice for Antipodeans living in the UK. The work varies depending on the firm/case, however it generally involves assisting with the disclosure process in large scale commercial litigation case or regulatory investigation. The desirable candidates for these positions will have over two years of commercial litigation experience from a top/well known firm. Although this experience is not essential, candidates who fit this build will find it easier to secure the more desirable/higher paying roles. These roles can only be secured via a recruitment consultant that has ties with the industry. 
  • Fixed term contract – On a fixed term contract you will likely be treated as a temporary associate on a one to twelve month basis. These shorter term roles are useful to tide you over until you can find a permanent position. Equally if you plan to travel while you are in Europe, short-term contracts can be ideal. These roles are rarely advertised and therefore your best chance of securing one is through a recruitment agent.  
  • Private practice – If you are making a move to further your career and want to gain experience on multi-national deals then a private practice position should be at the front of your thinking. Seeking a private practice position is quite an involved process and can require up to five interviews. These roles can often be secured by stellar candidates with the help of a specialist legal recruitment consultant from home (via Skype) or on arrival.   
  • In-house – Whilst attractive, permanent in-house roles are difficult to secure without UK experience. The list of UK private practice lawyers wanting to move in-house is a mile long and therefore your best route may be via an in-house contract in a large clearing bank or commercial entity. These roles are best secured via a specialist recruitment agent. 

3. How does your previous experience stack up?

Unfortunately this is where things may get tricky. Whilst you may have been working on large deals in Australia and New Zealand, the reality is that they pale in significance when compared to the sophistication of the deals being made in London. A candidate I recently placed from a big four firm in New Zealand commented that he learnt more in two months in London than a year in NZ. That’s not to say that you are not equipped to work in London but it can be quite humbling, even for experienced Antipodeans.
No matter where you land in the UK your non-UK experience will be discounted (or equalised as some firms like to call it) by two years to account for the UK training contract. Therefore if you have worked for a total of four years at an Australian or New Zealand firm you will be considered two years post qualification experience (PQE) when you approach the job market in London.
It’s not all bad news though; there is plenty of opportunity for skilled lawyers. Many ask what the most transferrable legal skill set is for those wanting to make the move. My answer is always that transactional experience will serve you well. Whether it is in banking and finance or mergers and acquisitions, the UK deal documents are much the same.  
Transactional experience aside, planning, real estate and construction candidates can also take comfort in the knowledge that there is a skills shortage in their area making their chances all the more likely.    

4. How can the support of a good recruiter help?

Firstly, choose a specialist. Not a specialist firm but a specialist consultant, an individual who can best sell your skills and experience to the market. A proper specialist has the industry knowledge and the contacts to find the right job at the right time and put you in pole position.
It is important to regularly communicate with your consultant. You will have to clear them to send your CV to roles, provide regular feedback and make specific amendments to your CV at short notice. By doing this you are enabling your consultant to represent you in the best way possible and significantly increase your chances of landing the right role.
Manage where your CV is being sent. Too often I hear stories of a CV being sent everywhere and anywhere by a rogue recruiter before a candidate is even in the UK.  This overboard approach risks you getting ‘locked out’ before you have even started. 
A recruiter is there to help you and a good one will sniff out jobs that don’t even exist yet, putting their candidate one step ahead. This all makes that move to London slightly less daunting and crucially, lands your CV at the top of the pile.
Hamish Drake works for Michael Page International out of their flagship office in Holborn, London and recruits lawyers at all levels (from NQ to Partner). Having spent time as a banking and finance lawyer at leading national and global law firms he is well versed in his market and is an expert at placing foreign qualified lawyers into associate level positions throughout London. He can be contacted on +44 207 269 2492 or hamishdrake@michaelpage.com