Despite being in high demand down under, Australian tax lawyers have a difficult time finding positions overseas, says Edward Andrew, managing director of recruitment consultancy EA International.
While their banking and finance and corporate counterparts are snapped up, overseas firms are reluctant to take on Australian lawyers because of the specialised nature of tax practice in different jurisdictions, Andrew said.
He said there were very few overseas jurisdictions an Australian lawyer would be able to find work in. He cited London as the primary place for Australian tax lawyers to get positions, but said that even then opportunities were limited to only a handful of firms.
“Because of the differences in tax practice between the UK and Australia, a lot of [UK firms] won’t hire an Australian-qualified tax lawyer. It’s certainly one of the more difficult disciplines to find a job in,” he said.
According to Andrew, overseas opportunities for Australian tax lawyers, similarly for Australian competition or intellectual property lawyers, rarely arise.
“You could be the very best tax lawyer of your banding in Australia and there could be no options for you in the UK: you might have to wait six to twelve months to actually find the right sort of opportunity for you.”
Another feature of overseas tax law recruitment, Andrew said, is that it doesn’t fluctuate with changing economic conditions in the way that recruitment in other practices areas such as corporate does. “The state of the economy globally doesn’t really have a huge bearing on the ability of a tax lawyer to go overseas. It’s one of the niche groups.”
When positions do arise, Andrew said, firms are most selective about who they consider for the role. “When they recruit, particularly at the top end, they tend to take on the most cerebral, academic lawyers into those practice groups. Generally they would only be looking at lawyers coming out of the elite firms; top tier, but not only that, those who are at the top of their game as well,” he said, adding that they also tend to be interested in lawyers with a very strong corporate tax background, as opposed to those specialising in areas such as GST or income tax.
One option for tax lawyers who are looking to make the move overseas is to move across into a different practice area, such as banking and finance, which is more consistent between jurisdictions and therefore more likely to embrace Australian lawyers.
“Because there is so much tax work involved in structured finance and structured products, we have seen tax lawyers who are experienced in advising on structured products and financing products actually end up going into baking teams,” Andrew said. “From time to time we also see some of the global firms take up tax lawyers into the superannuation and pension practices simply because of the tax treatment of those types of funds and products as well.”
Another rule of thumb, he said, is that overseas firms won’t consider hiring from Australian accountancy firms, which, as Lawyers Weekly reported last week is an important source of recruitment for tax practices in Australian law firms.
“They prefer to take somebody who’s come from one of the global accountancy practices, who’s then spent a couple of years as a tax lawyer in one of the Australian firms. The reason for that is that the nature of work in accountancy practices is slightly different than it is in a law firm and they want to give them a slightly different exposure before bringing them on board,” Andrew said.
“We see a lot of people, particularly at the 18-month to three-year experience level who want to leave the accountancy practice and go and work in a law firm overseas. Our advice to them generally is that you need to go and work in an Australian law firm first before you can relocate to London.”