Still Call Australia Home?
For many young lawyers, spending a year or more overseas is not just an exciting opportunity; many rightly see it as a necessary step to enhance their CVs and prepare them for a career at the top of their professions. The experience they get and the networks they build will power the careers they eventually build back in Australia. But how much is too much? At what point do you start to lose touch with the fabric of Australian legal practice?
There’s no simple answer, but it’s fair to say that less than one year spent overseas is probably not going to earn you the experience and exposure that will count decisively in your favour in the Australian jurisdiction in which you eventually want to practice. At the other end of the scale, in spending more than 3 or 4 years overseas you will almost certainly be seen to have lost some of your grasp of the Australian scene. So what’s the Goldilocks number? In our view, 1-2 ½ years is about the right number. A year is pretty typical. This article discusses the factors you need to bear in mind when addressing this important question.
Much depends on the nature of your overseas work, and on the sort of career you eventually want for yourself. Overseas working experience can be broken down into four categories:
- Working for an Australian international firm in one of its overseas offices.
- Working in the head office of an overseas firm that has Australian operations.
- Working for an overseas law firm with no Australian connections.
- Working overseas as in-house legal counsel.
Working for an Australian international firm in one of its overseas offices.
Remaining a “visible” candidate for future advancement in Australian practice is obviously easiest when your employer is Australian-based. You have plenty of opportunity to stay familiar with the Australian legal scene, and your performance is visible to the senior echelon of the firm. In this sort of situation you might spend three years overseas without really impairing your long-term prospects.
A word of warning, though; be discerning about the kind of position you take, and make sure it is one that offers you the opportunities you need to excel, learn and remain connected to the Australian scene.
Working in the head office of an overseas firm that has Australian operations.
Depending on the nature of the work and how it fits in with your long-term objectives, this can be an excellent option. Again, you remain visible to the eyes of Australian employers. Again, though, by about 2 ½ years you should be looking to move back to Australia while you can still capitalise on your experience.
Working for an overseas law firm with no Australian connections.
Remaining au fait with the Australian legal scene may be more difficult, but some British firms have excellent reputations in Australia, despite having no formal presence in Australia. An Australian lawyer working for a couple of years in a field which Australian employers see as valuable may in fact benefit more than those who work for firms with formal Australian connections. Again, the nature of the work is key.
Working overseas as in-house legal counsel.
This can endow a young Australian lawyer with experience which will be extremely valuable in a career in legal practice. However the jobs that provide that high-grade boost to your CV are few and far between, and in general Australian firms tend not to favour candidates who have just come from an extended period overseas as in-house legal counsel. Location is a factor, too. A stint in London working in an important field of law is likely to be far more appealing than a similar period spend, say, in the Middle East.