Thinking of an international legal career?
Part 1: Why practise abroad?
When it comes to career progression, international experience can be a great selling point on a resume and put you a cut above the local competition. It gives you access to different markets and work you may never receive in your home country.
In this series about international legal careers, I will discuss the many considerations, professional and personal, about practising abroad. In Part 1, I’ll discuss which practice areas are most transferable across borders and the benefits a foreign posting can provide for your law career.
As a point to note, there is a difference between working overseas and practising international law. International law is a very niche practice area in and of itself, while there are many positions available overseas for Canadian lawyers.
Which practice areas offer the greatest number of opportunities for working overseas?
The most versatile practice areas are those that already have global links, which almost by default is wider corporate work: corporate commercial, M&A, financing, securities, antitrust, anti-money laundering and compliance tend to provide the most opportunities in other jurisdictions. Areas like family law, criminal law, wills and estates, some taxation, and some real estate tend to be intrinsically tied to local jurisdictions and have less transferability to overseas markets. There can be specific areas, especially in tax and real estate, that may involve cross-border transactions. Your marketability abroad can be considered on a case-by-case basis with an experienced legal recruiter.
And of course, working at a top-tier firm makes your Canadian experience far more attractive to overseas employers.
So, if you have worked in a large firm and developed a legal skillset that is transferrable overseas, why would a Canadian lawyer take their experience to another jurisdiction?
What are the benefits of practising abroad?
Below are four general benefits a foreign posting can provide for your legal career:
1. Experience on larger and more complex deals
In Above the Law, Lawrence Hsieh, Senior Legal Editor with Thomson Routers, outlines the general benefits of practising overseas, the greatest of which is the opportunity to work on larger and more complex assignments.
In 2018, there were only 12 Canadian companies on the Global Fortune 500. Larger global organizations tend to be based in major international centres outside of Canada (London, New York etc.) and their legal work will be handled by local lawyers in the jurisdictions where the companies are headquartered. In the case of international firms, that Canadian office will still tend to only handle work from Canadian companies.
For access to the largest, most intricate deals from the top global companies, Canadian lawyers must seek positions in markets overseas.
2. Experience with different processes and technology
Lawrence Hsieh also talks of how foreign markets will have different processes to practicing law. Technology adaptation in Canada remains somewhat behind the global trend (see ‘The Illusion of Innovation at Canadian Law Firms’ by Aly R Haji, McGill, 2017). Rapid technological changes are interrupting the workplace and risk is high for those that do not adapt to new developments.
Experience overseas can provide invaluable exposure to innovative practices for delivering legal services.
Canadian salaries can be strong against the global average; however, there are markets overseas where Canadian lawyers can still receive a significant boost in their compensation. At the senior level, lawyers in certain markets can earn upwards of double the Canadian equivalent (see here). One must also be cognizant of the flipside and consider living expenses also very significantly for different jurisdiction. This will be explored in later articles.
4. Personal development
Diversifying and expanding your legal experience by relocating overseas can be enriching in many different ways. Given the above benefits, there are still other factors, both professional and personal, to consider. We will explore these factors in further articles.
International law jobs can be attractive to Canadian lawyers for the excitement, the opportunity to live and work in a different culture, amongst many others. There are convincing arguments as to why Canadian lawyers should seek work abroad for at least a portion of their career; however, each personal scenario is different. As an expatriate myself, I always welcome the opportunity to discuss your individual career and if an international move is right for you.
Jeremiah Hunter, Recruitment Associate