Law in the big smoke

By Emma Ryan|18 November 2016

The distinct similarities between English and Australian law create an easy pathway for home-grown lawyers looking for a change.

There are few unappealing things about London.

This iconic city offers a diverse range of people and cultures, attracting millions of travellers each year.

Its unique atmosphere is second to none, with some of the most famous historical sites on the planet just a short red bus ride away.

While it may be an easy sell to tourists, how does London fare with Australian lawyers looking for foreign employment prospects?

Unrivalled demand

London is home to myriad law firms, ranging from domestic players to international firms, boutiques and the elite Magic Circle.

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With the high number of firms, there’s a hot demand for Aussie lawyers in London, according to Lindsy McGowan, senior manager at Hays Legal.

“Overall there is a high demand for top-quality candidates across the city. Australian lawyers looking to move overseas can and should take advantage of this continued desire for skilled legal professionals,” she says.

“The practice areas in which we are currently seeing the highest demand are employment, litigation, pensions, and financial services – regulatory and banking.

“Traditionally the majority of overseas lawyers placed in the London market have been in the banking, finance, energy, IT and construction sectors.”

Easy adaptation

Anyone who has travelled to the UK can see its similarities to the land down under. We largely speak the same language, both appreciate a good pub and we reside under the same monarchy.

According to Michael Gorrie, an associate at Allen & Overy in London, the similarities extend to the two nations’ legal practices.

“The Australian system is largely based on the United Kingdom system, so there are a lot of similarities,” he says.

“The grounding in the tradition of the Australian law means that the transition for Australian lawyers into working in London can be fairly easy – particularly if moving within the same firm.”

Mr Gorrie says the court processes in London are very similar to those in Australia.

“As deals become more international, there seems to be a trend towards transactional practice being very similar in the two jurisdictions too,” he adds.

“But the scale in London can often be far greater than in Australia because it is a much larger financial market.”

Overcoming obstacles

Although it is similar to so many of our own cities, London’s larger population and number of law firms can often result in increased competition.

“The biggest challenge for any lawyer in London, whether Australian, British or from elsewhere in the world, is finding a way to be heard above the noise,” says Tony Griffiths, administrative partner at K&L Gates London.

“Because the market for legal services here is so competitive, firms and their lawyers constantly have to find ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.

“Rather than standing still, successful lawyers need to engage with their clients and identify new and emerging areas where these clients need support. The lawyers who are best at this are typically the most successful.”

Mr Gorrie says there are both professional and personal obstacles one must face to work in London.

“Professionally, while the Australian market is similar to London, there are many differences. Adapting to the different style of working and different issues that arise in London can be challenging,” he says.

“You’ll need to consider whether you need to obtain UK qualification. The process can be quite demanding and will likely require the support of the firm you’re working for and a substantial time commitment.

“Getting used to the London culture can also be challenging – particularly if you arrive in winter! As lawyers in any jurisdiction [know], we are working in fast-paced business and political environments with rapidly advancing technology, which continues to present new and interesting challenges in all markets.

“You also have to contend with a different holiday cycle that comes with the seasons happening at different times of year, and there are the differences in legal terminology.

“For example, in the area of litigation, English lawyers refer to ‘disclosure’ in court proceedings whereas Australian lawyers refer to ‘discovery’. Perhaps to a greater extent than in Australia there is an emphasis on using advanced delivery processes to complete tasks faster and at a lower cost.”

Making the move

Before packing your bags to become a Londoner, it’s important to be adequately prepared.

“Anybody looking to move to London should be prepared to work in one of the world’s most diverse and international cities,” says Mr Griffiths.

“Firstly, I would advise anybody to ensure that the employer they are joining is the right fit for them in terms of type of work, culture and environment.

“There is a mass of information available either on job boards, the internet or from speaking to people. My strong recommendation would be to make use of this. I would also advise anybody considering the move to do their research before making any commitments, for example, considering future career opportunities that can be generated from the move to London.”

On the personal side, Mr Griffiths notes that London can sometimes feel like a daunting place given its size, which can make it difficult to meet new people. To combat this, he says Australian lawyers who have made the move should prioritise getting involved in social activities.

“There are a range of social, sporting and other options available within and outside the workplace, which makes it easy to make new connections,” he says.

“There are also a number of helpful organisations in London that are specifically focused on helping people in making the move to London, assisting with everything from accommodation and setting up bank accounts to healthcare.”

Future outlook

Unless you were living under a rock earlier this year, you would have heard all about Brexit and the economic implications it is set to have on the UK.

However, what’s seldom touched on are the repercussions it will have in the UK’s legal market, most notably London’s.

“If we leave to one side the resolution of the critical Brexit question of whether the UK will decide to opt for EU market access or immigration controls, the London market will continue to need lawyers who are internationally focused,” says Mr Griffiths.

“Cost constraints, as well as the fiercely competitive market, will demand that lawyers become more innovative and less execution-focused than previous generations, but London’s international position and reputation demands continued appetite for non-UK-trained lawyers.”

Mr Gorrie shares this opinion, saying the future remains bright for Australian lawyers looking to take up work in London.

“London has long been a popular place for Australian lawyers to go to work, and a market where Australian expats are welcomed by local firms, which is testament to the quality of Australian legal training,” he says.

“London remains a significant financial centre in the global market and will remain a popular destination for Australian lawyers to work and gain significant experience.

“We will be watching with interest how the market develops in the wake of Brexit and how that affects the legal market here, but for now the opportunities for outstanding legal talent remain.”

 

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