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Back to research & insights Published by Alex Gotch - 4 years ago

NZ Lawyers: how to prepare your profile for an overseas (London) move

Working overseas is a goal of many legal professionals in New Zealand, with London being the most common destination.

Despite working in London being a goal of many Kiwi lawyers, I’ve found that the steps required to make this move a reality aren’t common knowledge.

Below are suggestions on how Kiwi lawyers (and law students) can increase their chances of securing a role in London. I caveat this by adding that all lawyers have different backgrounds, skillsets and career aspirations, so it’s important to remember there is no ‘one size fits all’ template. Just ask me if you would like tailored advice.

          1. Timing

This is the biggest barrier for young lawyers wanting to move to London. When you want to move will make a huge difference to the availability of roles.

Law firms will use “PQE” as the barometer of experience. PQE means years of “post qualification experience”. On job adverts you’ll often see PQE referred to when denoting the level of lawyer, a firm is looking for, e.g. Associate 2 – 4 years PQE. This means an Associate who has worked at a law firm for at least two years after their qualification date.

As lawyers in the UK undertake a two-year training contract with their firm before qualification to calculate your UK PQE you subtract two years from your NZ PQE. Accordingly, the best time to move is after you’ve hit 3 PQE but ideally, you’ll have 4-5 years PQE.

Most of the demand for Kiwi lawyers by UK firms is from 1 -3 PQE in UK terms.

          2. Keep abreast of what markets are in demand in the UK

Your practice area will make a difference. The transactional practice groups like corporate M&A, funds, finance and banking are traditionally the skill sets in highest demand.

If your practice area is very locally focused this can increase the difficulty. It’s much easier for a Banking lawyer who works with international clients to get a role in the UK than an environment and planning lawyer who works primarily for local councils.

Outside of Corporate, Litigation and Banking we’ve seen a number of roles in Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT). These are the areas which are most appealing to London firms.

          3. The bigger the better

The London market is significantly bigger than New Zealand, for many solicitors this is a huge part of the appeal.

If your goal is to work at one of the largest firms in London, commonly known as the Magic and Silver Circle firms then you want to be working on the largest transactions that New Zealand can offer. Traditionally, this work is done by the ‘Big Four’ firms in New Zealand, so if you’re at a smaller firm and want to move to London it might be a two-step process. We advise to first make a move locally in New Zealand to a larger firm, build up your experience on large transactions as well as your PQE and then turn your focus to London.

          4. Make sure you spend time on your CV

Your CV is your passport to a role. It’s likely the first impression a firm will have of you is from your CV.

I often speak with talented lawyers but their CV isn’t a fair representation of their excellent legal background.

It’s worth your time to speak with a recruiter who can assist with this.

          5. Speak with a good recruiter

Having placed ANZ lawyers into the London market for numerous years, we have an intricate knowledge of the legal markets in both London and Australia. We can provide bespoke advice on how best to prepare your profile for an overseas move and also help make that happen.

          6. Consider a stint in Australia

The cumulative effect of a slight slowdown in the global economy and the enormous uncertainty of Brexit significantly decreased role availability in London in 2019.

If you’re a 1-2 PQE lawyer in New Zealand who is ready for a change it’s worth considering Australia. With two years working in Australia, this will put you in the ‘sweet spot’ for London firms. Further, that time will be spent in a larger market working on larger deals making your background all the more appealing for large London firms.

Plus unbeknownst to most Kiwis Australia is actually really nice!

In Conclusion

Moving to London is often seen as a rite of passage for New Zealand lawyers. The salaries are excellent and the work quality is outstanding. When the time comes to make the move I’d love to assist.

If you’re a New Zealand lawyer interested in London then please get in touch. It’s never too early to start the conversation so even if London is still a few years away I’d be happy to chat!

M. 0450 399 929


See our London Salary and Market Report HERE