Is the grass really greener?

For some lawyers, the ultimate work-life balance choice is relocating overseas. Jason Horobin reports

Although UK lawyers crop up everywhere from New York to Nairobi these days, some of the biggest sources of opportunities for aspiring expatriates are to be found offshore – more specifically, the Channel Islands, the Caymans, the British Virgin Islands or Bermuda. If you’re sitting in an office in a UK city at the moment, then these locations probably don’t need much selling. But before you start drafting your resignation letter, think back to the last holiday you bought through a tour brochure. Why did that lovely photograph of your hotel leave out the building site next door or neglect to tell you that the five-minute walk to the beach was across a replica of the M25?

Last year, on the basis that an informed expatriate is likely to end up a happy expatriate, Laurence Simons International carried out a survey of candidates we have placed in the offshore jurisdictions, focusing on the more distant locations. It’s time, we thought, to get the full picture, warts and all.

The results were generally positive. Strangely enough, most people did seem to enjoy better weather, a slower pace of life and less stress, not to mention the plentiful supply of high-quality work. But, of course, nowhere is perfect.

Bermuda, one of the most popular locations, is a prosperous series of islands with a semi-tropical climate. But it rains – anything up to 60 inches a year – and you’d be surprised at just how outraged a UK expatriate can get about rain. Bermuda is also very expensive, or to quote one respondent, “extortionate”. However, salaries are high and income tax is only 5 per cent, which certainly goes some way to compensating.

Some people are also just difficult to please. One participant said his first impressions were that it was “hot, expensive, alarmingly small, and the pubs are rubbish”. However, he did then go on to say that it was “safe, relaxed, good for children, has a better balance of work, family and social life, is pretty and sunny and has no traffic jams”. From this one might assume that he won’t be heading for the airport at the first possible opportunity.

Further south in the Caribbean proper lies the Cayman Islands, one of the most diverse and successful offshore financial centres in the world. Straight out of a tourist brochure, it has white sandy beaches, some of the best scuba diving on the globe and boasts a sophisticated infrastructure. It is also just as expensive as Bermuda, although apparently, “the worst thing is the mosquitoes”, which is perhaps bearable when stacked against other comments such as “I never intend to leave the Cayman Islands”.

For those who want more of a ‘real’ Caribbean experience, there is the up-and-coming financial centre of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). If you’re coming from a large firm in a big city, its “unspoilt” nature can be a definite culture shock. As one lawyer put it: “Initially, BVI seemed very small and cloistered after London.” It also means you need to be adaptable enough to face up to challenges from the locals. “Many of the local population do not like the offshore industry and accordingly are not welcoming,” said one respondent. And of the environment itself, one respondent said: “The most challenging aspect was to maintain high-quality work in the face of environmental problems like power outages.”

However, let’s leave the last word on living and working offshore to another UK lawyer in the BVI. It perhaps sums up all the advantages and disadvantages of a move overseas.
He said: “Think about what you want out of your life and career. If you want partnership and the security of a big firm, then you should reconsider. If you want unique experiences for good compensation, then offshore is a good move. Think carefully about what you’ll miss, but don’t let commitments stand in the way of doing something exciting.”

Jason Horobin specialises in recruitment for the offshore jurisdictions at recruitment consultant Laurence Simons International