The reasons why lawyers seek to work overseas are definitely many and varied. The majority seek to relocate for the opportunity to progress their careers and nowadays, to a lesser extent, some are motivated by travel, with work being a second priority.
The question of when to move overseas as an Australian lawyer is therefore going to depend on your motivation, but there are things you need to take into account first.
The number one consideration is the fact that Australian lawyers could have their PQE discounted by up to two years in Singapore, Hong Kong, the Middle East and the UK. This is simply to equalise the experience of lawyers internationally upon qualification, which is more onerous in some countries like the UK where lawyers must complete a two-year training contract. As such, if you are a second-year PQE lawyer in Australia looking for a role in the UK, you will be looking at roles at the newly-qualified level and most law firms will look for home grown talent to fill those positions in the first instance.
If you are seriously considering an international move you will need a minimum of three years’ PQE in Australia – preferably four – to qualify as a marketable and viable candidate for available roles. Generally, there is a need for lawyers at the four to eight year PQE level. Internationally, this is typically when lawyers will be at the senior associate stage in their career. It is certainly not necessary to wait until you become a senior associate in Australia, however the more skill and expertise gained in Australia, the more sought after you will be by firms in international locations.
Having said that, if you leave it too late and are too senior, it could work against you and it may be
more difficult to place you in roles internationally. If you are looking to travel first and work second, many lawyers head overseas prior to the fouryear PQE level and obtain roles as paralegals, allowing them to fund their travel whilst working and gaining experience in an international firm. After all, you
never know what opportunities can arise by being on the ground
in another country.