Navigating The International Legal Market In 2020

In the past weeks, I have spoken with many lawyers across Australia who have reached out to me seeking clarity on the current state of the international lateral market and the current opportunities we are seeing abroad. Although it may feel premature to even think of applying for roles abroad at this time, those who take proactive steps now will place themselves in pole position when demand for talent across law firms around the world picks up. And it may very well pick up sooner rather than later.

It goes without saying that demand for associate-level talent around the world has dipped, although firms acknowledge that this disruption is temporary and, in turn, are reluctant to let associate recruitment slip by the wayside. Such an action will create a disadvantage when firms find themselves competing for talent after the crisis subsides. Even those firms currently implementing formal hiring freezes, keeping the pipeline of candidates flowing is critical to short, medium and long-term success and recovery in the post COVID-19 world.

Law firms in London, New York, Hong Kong, Singapore and other locations are being strategic and flexible in their onboarding efforts of international hires and in maintaining candidate flow. This past week, the London office of a leading US law firm (one without offices in Australia) had their new Australian recruit start with the firm remotely from home in Sydney. This showed creativity and innovative thinking from our client to get the candidate engaged.

Commercially minded partners, including those at firms with current hiring freezes in place, who foresee future needs, are moving forward with initial conversations over videoconference or the old-fashioned phone with domestic and international lawyers right now. They hope to progress to offer after the freezes are removed. This flexible approach has been well-received by both law firms and candidates. For lawyers, this provides a great opportunity to engage with firms without feeling pressure to make hasty decisions. For firms, they understand that adoption of a proactive approach now will enable them to identify strong prospects in the midst of the crisis in order to facilitate formal interview processes and ultimately hiring of the desired lawyers faster than their peers when market conditions turn.

Whilst firms around the world are exhibiting an awareness of the negative consequences of completely freezing recruitment, we are also seeing them adopt a more innovative approach. That is all well and good, but we are stuck in Australia and cannot leave the country for the time being. As of the time of this writing, the Australian government has a travel ban in place for all Australian citizens and permanent residents in Australia on travelling overseas, while countries around the world have implemented their own border restrictions in response to COVID-19. With international air networks reduced significantly in capacity, relocating over the course of the next few months to start a new role abroad seems a tall order.

In which case, what can you do to make sure you are ready as can be when travel bans lift and global demand for Australian legal talent picks up? A good starting point is to update your resume and deal sheet and reach out to a legal recruiter with the experience, ability and track record to be of support. Doing so will inform you of the state of global legal markets and prepare you to explore the opportunities which are aligned with your career interests. Although different firms around the world will currently have different hiring appetites for Australian lawyers, there are firms with interest to meet with top candidates to the get the ball rolling on recruitment sooner rather than later. Have no doubt, the demand for Australian talent overseas will return with a vengeance once the current crisis lifts.

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