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Demand for Australian lawyers overseas remains red hot
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Demand for Australian lawyers overseas remains red hot

Lifestyle and not salary is emerging as the crucial offering that international law firms can offer in their ongoing bid to lure top performing antipodean lawyers through their front doors,…

Lifestyle and not salary is emerging as the crucial offering that international law firms can offer in their ongoing bid to lure top performing antipodean lawyers through their front doors, yet-to-be-released research has found.

When investigating the state of international markets for its new guide for Australian and New Zealand lawyers considering working overseas, recruitment firm Michael Page has discovered that while important, money is far from everything for young lawyers looking to make the move overseas.

“Many firms are still focusing their attention on salaries alone, which is not perhaps the correct approach,” Chris Meharg a consultant with Michael Page said.

To this end, law firms that offer everything under one roof such as gyms, swimming pools, eateries and so forth may too be barking up the wrong tree, according to Meharg, who was responsible for much of the research within the guide. “There’s literally no excuse to leave these firms … there’re even beds in some of these places,” he said.

While firms may be well-served to avoid salaries as the key selling point to prospective employers, there’s absolutely no avoiding it completely. In the UK, distinct categories have emerged with their own range of salaries. In order of remuneration these are: New York firms (in London), Mid-Atlantic firms, magic circle and other UK firms.

According to the Michael Page guide, the ongoing presence and seemingly insatiable demand for more lawyers by the US firms continues to place pressure on the UK firms to increase their salaries and step-up recruitment activity.

Also of note, was just how in demand Australian lawyers continue to be, both in the UK and beyond. “We were overwhelmed by the need they have for Australian lawyers and the weight they put on it in their own internal recruitment processes,” said Jason Saunders, associate director Michael Page Legal.

As a consequence, the time is now as good as ever for Australian lawyers thinking of making the move overseas. “Young Australians have always been very mobile, and given that the workloads expected at [Australia’s top-tier firms] is no different to what is expected at a UK firm, the question is why wouldn’t you go when you can earn quite literally double your salary,” said Meharg.

Another consideration is that as Australia has been “a very tapped market” for some time, the shear number of Australians working in law firms abroad is sometimes a deterrent.

“One US firm two years ago took 30 lawyers into their corporate M&A team and it got embarrassing because they couldn’t put together a deal team that didn’t involve Australians,’ Meharg said.

Top Australian and UK firms remain on a par, with lawyers expected to bill at least 1,600 hours per year. US firms, and in particular New York firms, expect much more than this, with a typical New York firm expecting 2,000 billable hours a year.

The Middle East continues to grow as a popular destination for Australian lawyers, however while the salaries remain lucrative and the standard of living exceptional, the cost of living has spiked dramatically in the past few years. “It’s still a great salary … It’s just not the same proposition it was,” said Meharg.

Australia’s neighbour and great travelling companions, the New Zealanders, are equally heading overseas in droves. However Michael Page has found that they are more likely than Australians to head to slightly less densely populated centres such as Scotland and Ireland. “It’s generally a cultural reason as to why a bigger proportion of New Zealanders look outside of London when they make the move overseas. If you think Christchurch is a big city, then move to Sydney and think that’s an enormous city, then when you get to London you think ‘what is this place?’,” said Meharg.

Despite the favourable conditions, finding work overseas is not a given. “It’s very difficult for certain types of lawyers to make the move … Real estate lawyers for instance can find it difficult at the moment,” said Meharg. “New York firms, in particular remain very, very fussy,” he said.

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