I am sure in Australia lawyers often see adverts from recruitment agents telling them of shortages in the legal profession in the UK and particularly law fields. This has been the case in years gone past in the Law Society Gazette in England and Wales. Adverts are still around now for law firms looking for solicitors to move to Australia to fill vacancies and there are legal recruitment agencies out there who have offices in both Sydney as well as London who recruit cross jurisdiction. We have over the years seen many Australian solicitors register with us for UK legal jobs and some stay for a very long time, others just for a few years before returning to Australia.
So what is the best advice we can give to Australian lawyers looking for work in the UK?
Firstly, accept that your experience in Australia so far as most UK law firms is concerned is completely irrelevant. Whether you are 2 years qualified or 25 years qualified most firms will disregard any experience that you have had in Australia when deciding whether or not to employ you.
There are exceptions to this rule, but they are few and far between. The usual position is that English, Welsh and Scottish law firms want solicitors and lawyers with experience in England, Wales and Scotland.
There are exceptions to this rule, but it is pretty guaranteed that any application you make will be beaten into second place any time by anyone who has experience here, whether or not that experience is considerably less than yours.
Secondly, make sure that there are no visa or working issues that can affect your employment if at all possible. Sometimes we get lawyers who need an employer to sponsor them in order to work and as far as law firms are concerned you may as well go and apply for jobs to work in a supermarket.
Thirdly, have no preconceptions regarding salary. Until you have UK work experience your salary will be whatever you can get, whether this is just a few pounds an hour or, if you strike it lucky, considerably more.
Look for locum work in the first instance. A lot of Australian solicitors find local authority posts are a good way of getting started in the UK job market. This has been a traditional route over the years as local authorities have always been more relaxed about whom they recruit for posts and are more desperate for staff than private practice law firms. Recently this has changed, particularly in 2011 when large budgetary cuts have affected every Government department and solicitor posts have dropped off dramatically.
Work experience can be an alternative option to local authority posts and it is fairly easy to pick this up provided you are prepared to look long and hard for suitable roles. www.solicitors-online.com is a useful place to start. This site will give you contact information for all the law firms and in-house legal departments in England and Wales.
Do not apply for jobs unless you have the specific experience requested. You will be wasting your time in 99% of cases. If you fancy playing long odds then make as many applications as you can, but on the vast majority of occasions this really will be a total waste of your time as well as the agency’s and law firms concerned.
The streets of London are not paved with gold for Australian solicitors. There are plenty of opportunities in the UK for Australian solicitors to go and apply for, and in some cases you will be successful. However, working in the legal profession in the UK in recent years has become a bit of a survival game and you need to be aware of that before you make any commitment to work here. In the great crash of 2007 and 2008 we estimate that over 10% of the profession lost their jobs. This is set to continue for the foreseeable future as there is now an army of lawyers in the UK looking for legal jobs who have not been able to find work in recent years.
Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment.