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Global work in the downturn

Global work in the downturn

The world is a bigger place, but how far has the global financial crisis stymied the opportunities available to lawyers who want to work across borders? Allens Arthur Robinson partner Tim Lester writes.

THE global financial crisis has brought to a close, at least for a time, the opportunity for talented young lawyers to pick and choose where to work internationally.

Yet graduates coming into major Australian law firms in the next few years will still have opportunities to work globally without having to relocate to do so.

In addition to our highly regarded legal training, the reason for this lies in the upside of globalization and Australia's strong economic performance over the last ten years. Australian companies are increasingly involved in globally significant transactions - within and beyond our borders.

As a graduate joining a Perth-based firm in 1992 my transactions were overwhelmingly West Australian focused. Teams worked across the corridor from each other or across city blocks.

Gaining international experience meant, in my case, moving to Lovells' Hong Kong office in 1995 before heading with Lovells to Tokyo, London and then back to Tokyo before returning to Perth in 2008 to join Allens Arthur Robinson.

Compare that with the experience of several young Perth lawyers who earlier this year worked on a transaction with me where the client was London-based; the purchaser Brazilian; the assets in Argentina and Canada and the negotiations in New York, structured through a Bahamian vehicle.

That transaction crossed seven legal jurisdictions and time zones and involved legal teams in our Perth and Melbourne offices spanning specialists in corporate, tax, employment, competition, IP and resources and spending many days overseas.

That deal was no exception, rather, the continuation of a growing trend. In the last six months, our Perth office and lawyers have acted on at least four significant global transactions, working across our offices in Perth, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and overseas across Jakarta, London, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Beijing.

While this changing landscape is an exciting development, it also brings some interesting implications and challenges for both young lawyers and their firms.

Today's young lawyers will need to quickly develop extremely strong cross jurisdictional transaction management skills to adapt to, and take advantage of, the demands of this emerging landscape.

Managing or working on transactions across countries, teams, offices and a myriad of time zones in a manner that is entirely seamless for the client is complex and challenging. It's one thing to walk down a hallway or across a city block to discuss a legal issue with several colleagues or clients - quite another to have 35 people dialing into a teleconference, managing that call and achieving a sensible outcome.

The trend necessitates a trade-off between enjoying the lifestyle of a city, such as Perth, with the flexibility of travelling at short notice to far flung places or participating in late night or very early morning teleconferences or videoconferences.

A narrow perspective doesn't sit well with the opportunities that now present themselves. An inability to effectively engage with clients relying on you in a multitude of locations and to adeptly lead a transaction while managing and driving essential input from lawyers across different jurisdictions will limit the opportunities to act globally while living locally.

For law firms themselves adopting leading technology is part of adapting to this trend but of greater importance is the need to ensure that there is a culture that doesn't tolerate geographical bias but rather demands and promotes a whole of firm approach to servicing client needs both within and beyond Australia.

While there will always be tremendous local matters and very successful local law firms, the current economic uncertainty does not spell the end of opportunities for young Australian lawyers to internationalise their careers. Rather the current climate shines a light on the very real and growing opportunities to work globally - but in a changed context. Taking advantage of those opportunities can be a key part of a young lawyer's future success.

Tim Lester is a former partner of Lovells and former managing partner of Lovell's Tokyo office and is a corporate finance partner for Allen Arthur Robinson in Perth.

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Global work in the downturn
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