The London Report: Navigating the dire straits

LONDON CALLING: The United Kingdom is still apopular choice for Australian lawyers seeking overseas experience. ONCE

Promoted by Lawyers Weekly 11 July 2008 Big Law
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LONDON CALLING: The United Kingdom is still a

popular choice for Australian lawyers seeking

overseas experience.

ONCE UPON a time, a few years spent in London with one of top firms was seen as a CV requirement on the path to a successful legal career.

These days, with globalisation distributing the work, and a volatile global economy leaving some markets revelling in highs while other circumnavigate the lows, the opportunities for international experience are vast and unique.

In fact, say some Magic Circle firms, experience in a global arm of their firm is looked upon extremely favourably in the long-term path to partner.

Offices, including Dubai, Moscow and Hong Kong to name a few, are presenting unique working opportunities for Australian lawyers with valuable experience - on a par with what can be found in London.

The work is world-class, the deals large and the cultural experiences invaluable. One Australian lawyer, Ben Constance, who has recently made the move to Dubai to work with London/German firm Taylor Wessing says: "Compared to Australia, there are much bigger M&A deals, while the stockmarket and the capital market work out here is a growing area."

And compared to London? "From a litigation perspective it wouldn't be ideal in terms of the court experience," says Constance, noting that only local counsel can appear in court in Dubai. "But [in terms of] commercial and corporate, I would think the transactions and the nature of the work here would be leading towards being on a par with London."

It's big work, and to some firms, considered extremely favourable experience. Maurice Allen, partner at Freshfields says: "Some of the biggest career opportunities will be in those offices outside London and the quality of the work will be more varied."

Emma Lim, recruitment manager at Simmons & Simmons, agrees: "There are a number of opportunities in high growth areas such as the Middle East, Far East and Moscow," she says.

"Lawyers working in these areas gain good, transferable experience and often have increased responsibility and many more business development opportunities, which can only benefit them in their future career."

At Linklaters, partner Annette Kurdian says that given they're an international firm, it's important for lawyers to assist in moving expertise and resources to where they're required globally. But some of these vacancies are filled through secondments and transfers.

"At any one time we have several hundred people on secondment," she says. "From a career point of view, time spent in a Linklaters office outside London is as good as time spent in London. We work very closely among offices and our lawyers get the same training whatever office they are in."

But, in Dubai at least, Australian lawyers may not necessarily be the flavour of the month simply because there are too many of them over there at the moment.

Megan Drysdale, recruiter at Mahlab, says she knows of at least one firm which has actually put a freeze on recruiting Australians to ensure diversity in the office. "They've been recruiting mostly Australians, and they're probably finding that it's becoming an Australian firm," she says.

Meanwhile legal work in Moscow is running strong. While, to some, the hangover from the Communist era may still seem a little off-putting, for others it's proving a worthwhile and valuable experience. Earlier this year Rebecca Roberts, an associate in White & Case's corporate practice in Moscow, told Lawyers Weekly, that her decision to head to the winterland raised questions from her colleagues.

"There was serious concern about whether my love of sunshine, thongs and the beach would survive a Soviet-style adventure," she said.

Without speaking Russian, Roberts has found that she's working on large deals, especially because Russia holds an impressive portfolio of energy assets. She says there are plenty of international investors looking at Russian industries, with the economy progressing at a rapid pace.

While the stint in a global office may be ideal in the short-term, and definitely looked upon favourably by London firms, work in the mother country is still seen as a necessary step for the profession.

Allen says it may be a disadvantage, long-term to have never lived in London. "However, for the younger lawyers, a stint outside London with a view to move later when the market is better would make sense," he says.

- Angela Priestley