LAW FIRMS need not panic as the new E3 visa, which will allow some 10,500 Australian professionals with tertiary qualifications to enter the United States, comes into effect. While Australian firms have long felt the pressures of overseas firms attracting our lawyers, this new visa will do little to worsen the current candidate shortage.
The new visa, an exclusive arrangement between the US and Australia, will not cause Australian lawyers to depart for the US in the same way they have left for London or Asia, said recruitment agency Taylor Root partner David Buckley.
It is predominantly the top tier that will suffer the threat of the pull of the United States, said Buckley, but that will still only be a small per cent. “It’s going to be predominately the top-tier law firms that the lawyers will move from. It will be a smaller polar population of lawyers that can actually make that move. It’s going to be the top 5 per cent in terms of academics and experience, and predominantly from banking and finance and corporate M&A,” he said.
Smaller firms and mid-tier firms will be less affected, said Buckley. As well, lawyers will be sought from very specific areas, particularly banking and finance, capital markets, and financial market derivatives, he said. “That’s the real experience that is sought after. But, this has to be coupled with first rate academics, and really strong training.”
Abbott Tout HR director Helen McHarry said the firm has not so far been affected by the new visa. She argued that while Australian lawyers may want to work in New York, there is not necessarily the need for our lawyers over there. “It doesn’t mean there is a demand for lawyers. I am not aware of any additional demand for Australian lawyers in the States. I haven’t seen any demonstration of an additional need for Australian lawyers since this visa was allowed,” she said.
“Australians have always been ready to jump at opportunities. It’s a career step and it’s also an exciting and adventurous lifestyle step. For Americans to come here, I don’t think is a career step. I have known them to come here for lifestyle and family reasons, however.”
But Buckley said small numbers of people are starting to move across to New York as a result of the visa. There has been “a handful of people make that move over the last six months”, he said, “and I think it will continue to increase whilst the US economy maintains its robust character”.
“The move is only going to be in those very specific areas where lawyers will be in demand. I think the trend will continue and increasing numbers will go but it’s not going to be any huge numbers that make that transition over. They obviously need to qualify when they are there as well, they need to qualify for the bar as well,” Buckley said.
“The numbers that we are seeing move overseas are getting up to the levels we saw in the late 90s. But, the US market is always going to have a higher barrier of entry. The number of lawyers going overseas, whether it be the UK, Europe, or offshore tax havens, are getting into higher numbers, but you are never going to see those volumes move to the US, just because of the more stringent barriers to entry there. It’s a trickle as opposed to a flood of people who make the move,” said Buckley.
Despite it being only a “trickle” of lawyers being able to make the move to the US, recruiters Hamilton James & Bruce managing director John Colvin said firms should ensure they are making the workplace attractive to those lawyers returning from overseas stints.
HR departments in Australian firms have a role to play in attracting returning lawyers into their firms. “You have to be seriously good at listening to your staff and make sure the environment the firms are building genuinely delivers what the lawyers are looking for,” said Colvin.
“If people don’t get development, training, the right support and the building of their career in the right way, they just won’t hang around. Looking at turnover rates in law firms, some of them do a good job at that, and some of them do a less effective job. Doing a better job at that is probably the single biggest thing that law firms can do to hang on to their people more effectively,” he said.
Taylor Root’s Buckley said, however, that retention strategies will do little to stem the flow of lawyers to the US, the United Kingdom and Europe. “The firms know these people [who are moving overseas]. The best thing firms can do is try and facilitate the move for the lawyers, which occasionally they try and do, or try and ensure that if they do go over, when they think of coming back they know they have a place to come back to.”
“There is no push that makes lawyers move [overseas], it’s the pull of working in New York, it’s the pull of white shoe rates, it’s the pull of getting overseas experience,” Buckley said.