Job Watch: Overseas-qualified lawyers, part 1

Overseas expertise is always a valuable asset in the UK marketplace, but how in demand are overseas-qualified lawyers right now?

“With the corporate market and the capital markets in particular still spluttering, the demand for overseas lawyers is low,” says Freddie Lawson of Glass Consultancy. “This coupled with the tight immigration laws and strong Asia Pacific economy, means there has been a downturn in the number of Australian and New Zealand-qualified lawyers coming to London.”

However, as Guy Adams, a director at Laurence Simons, notes, when firms in London are looking for foreign-qualified lawyers, they tend to look to those lawyers who are qualified in common law jurisdictions.

“Firms are generally more interested in common law qualified lawyers from top-rated firms in the likes of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Canada,” he says. “Some firms have specific international teams based in their London offices and these offer limited opportunities for lawyers qualified in those jurisdictions at the moment.”

Arbitration is one area where overseas-qualified lawyers are in high demand, says James Gavine of RedLaw recruitment. “With so much international cross-border disputes work out there, experienced litigators and arbitrators coming from top local firms can be in high demand, particularly those with Russian, Arabic or Chinese language skills.”

Corporate and banking are two other areas that overseas-qualified lawyers are deemed a strong asset, adds Ricardo Bonegio of Garfield Robbins. “In terms of permanent roles, there is demand from the large international law firms for foreign qualified associates, typically for their large corporate and banking focused London teams. For contract roles, there are generally more opportunities available across a wider spectrum of law firms, companies and government departments.”

Working for an international brand can give you the edge as an overseas-qualified lawyer in the London market, says Jonathan Firth, managing director of Michael Page Legal. “Candidates who come from the bigger name international firms can be more attractive as these provide reassurance that a certain standard of on-the-job training has been completed as well as potential exposure to international or large scale projects.”

Gavine adds firms are starting to get more accustomed to the idea of sponsorship. “[As a result] New Zealand, Australian and South African corporate and banking lawyers coming from top local players can be snapped up very quickly.”

But Firth stresses that sponsorship is still not easy to come by in the current climate, and Ed Strickland of Glass Consultancy adds: “The immigration issue is an increasing problem for overseas lawyers [and] firms are finding it much harder to bring people in. As a result, firms are very unlikely to be opportunist when it comes to non-common law foreign lawyers from outside the EU.”