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Back to research & insights Published by Alex Gotch - 8 months ago

Relocating to the U.S. Guide

We’ve seen a substantial increase in Australian lawyers making the move to the US looking to gain invaluable experience overseas. There has been a huge demand for Australian lawyers across both the East and West Coast including New York, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. In this article, we’ll outline possible reasons to make the move, what firms offer candidates when they relocate, and what it’s like to relocate to the East Coast versus the West Coast.

Why move to the U.S.?


The undisputed advantage to a US move is the impressive salaries and bonuses Australian lawyers receive. For example, Beacon Legal recently assisted an Australian lawyer with 1.5-years’ PAE obtain a position in New York with a salary of US $250,000 (AU $380,000), resulting in a threefold increase in her pay. Senior lawyers have received salaries as high as USD $400,000, which is approximately AU $600,000.

Experience and Training

In top US firms, teams are leaner, which provides lawyers at all levels unparalleled experience on large, complex, cross-border matters with Blue Chip clients. Junior lawyers especially will be able to gain greater exposure to career-defining deals that in turn will accelerate their development.

Bolster Your CV

Upon return to Australia, lawyers will be highly valued by employers for their international experience and knowledge. Not only will Australian firms and companies value their exposure to complex matters in an international context, but they will respect their tenacity and work ethic in the knowledge that they have been successful at the largest law firms in the world!

Relocating Benefits Offered by U.S. Firms

Many US firms offer fantastic relocation benefits to their Australian Associates to make an international move as seamless as possible.


In addition to compensating lawyers with significant salary packages, firms often offer additional perks to “sweeten” the deal. For example, hefty sign on bonuses, particularly where there is significant competition for a candidate, are not uncommon, and can reach as much as US $50,000! Additionally, firms tend to offer market-leading performance-based bonuses which, for the best performers, can be around US $100,000!


Firms also tend to pay for the cost of relocation air travel for newly hired lawyers and their spouses/dependents. The class of travel can vary but Premium Economy and Business Class tend to be the usual type of tickets seen.

Goods Allowance

Some of the best relocation packages globally are offered by the top White Shoe firms we partner with. Typically, allowances are provided for air freight, sea freight and storage, and the leading packages even include things like a full “pack – store – deliver” service to take the stress out of the move!

Additional Benefits
  • Paid parental leave, family care leave, and reduced-pace arrangement options;
  • Back-up care for children or elders;
  • Family and fertility support; and
  • A range of health services including medical, dental and vision.


Working on the East Coast

New York (NYC) has historically been the most popular hub for Australian lawyers looking to relocate to the US. But why is that the case?

Lawyers will gain invaluable experience with some of the biggest and most prestigious international firms in the world, many of whom are headquartered in NYC. In particular, lawyers gain invaluable exposure to major complex transactions and Blue Chip clients, accelerating their career.

Lawyers who enjoy a fast-paced lifestyle will thrive in NYC, which offers a vibrant and bustling environment. It is also a cultural hub, providing a range of restaurants, bars and museums for lawyers to explore in their free time.

New York is also one of the highest paying markets for lawyers in the world, allowing lawyers to maximise their earning potential in comparison to their Australian colleagues. For example an Australian lawyer with 1.5 – 2 years’ PQE could be earning USD $250,000 (AU $380,000) in comparison to their colleagues who could only be earning up to AU $140,000.

What can an Aussie lawyer expect?

As Australian qualifications aren’t recognised in the US per se, Australian lawyers will need to sit the Bar Exam when they arrive. Exams are usually held in February and July, and US firms tend to cover the costs of the exam and a standard Bar Training Course, and provide up to four weeks’ paid study leave.

Top-tier Corporate, Finance, Real Estate, Projects/Project Finance and Technology lawyers tend to be the most sought after, with the ‘sweet spot’ for Australian lawyers looking to relocate being the 2-8 years’ PQE mark.

Working on the West Coast

Over the past 18 months, there has been a significant uptick in Australian lawyers’ interest in relocating to the West Coast. Popular cities have included Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Palo Alto.

The main driver to the West Coast is the ‘Californian lifestyle’. The culture typically tends to be more laid back, affording more consideration to things like work/life balance, outdoor activities, and beaches. Unlike New York, the West Coast is sunny all-year round, with the average winter temperatures being 10-15 degrees celsius.

What can an Aussie lawyer expect?

There are some key differences to consider when looking at the West Coast as an option. New York for example has more of an emphasis on “perfectionism” and lawyers tend to focus on this aspect, with less of an eye on the clock when it comes to billable hours. California tends to have a different breed of client where there would be more weight given to pragmatic and cost-efficient advice (pivotal for companies in the fast-paced Tech industry for example). As one commentator puts it, the emphasis is “you can get things done but not in the same scripted way you’d do in New York”.

Teams in Californian law firms tend to run leaner than their NYC counterparts, and this gives greater opportunity for lawyers to take on more responsibility, up-skill faster, and develop a broader practice. That is not to say that specialisms do not exist, however, for those who want to have an option to diversify, that is often more accessible in the West Coast.

As with NYC, top-tier-trained Corporate, Finance, Real Estate, Project Finance and Tech/M&A lawyers tend to be in high demand. Australian lawyers will of course need to requalify locally (taking the Californian Bar), and firms cover the costs of the exam and relevant courses, and provide up to four weeks’ paid study leave in a bid to maximise the first-time pass rates.

Contact Us

Think a U.S. move could be right for you? Want to find out more? Contact Chad Weerasinghe for more information.

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