For those brave enough to make the leap, an international career can be hugely rewarding and help you develop skills that you would never get by remaining in one location your entire career. Speaking from personal experience living and working on three continents, the benefits of moving internationally far outweigh the downsides.
I’m often approached by legal and compliance professionals who are keen to move internationally. To help anyone considering such a move, I’ve put together a broad overview on which skill sets travel best and how international mobility looks into and out from North America, Europe, and Asia.
Compliance Experience vs. Legal Experience
Compliance is often specific to local issues with a focus on regulations in the home country, therefore compliance skillsets don’t travel as well as legal experience. A couple of exceptions are anti-bribery (FCPA) and U.S regulatory experience, both of which are sometimes sought by companies outside the U.S.
Asia can broadly be separated into North Asia (Hong Kong, China, South Korea, and Japan) and South-East Asia (the ASEAN region). Employers in North Asia prefer and sometimes require local language skills and a country-specific legal qualification. In South-East Asia, local language skills are not as important, with Singapore arguably the easiest country to secure a position from overseas. However, even in Singapore, the barriers to entry are rising as employers place increasing emphasis on hiring local candidates and turning to overseas talent only as a last resort.
Work visas are not as big a hurdle in any part of Asia as they are in other jurisdictions. If an employer will sponsor for a work visa, it is quite likely that a qualified candidate with the requisite undergraduate degree will be granted the visa. It is more difficult to secure an in-house move than a law firm move, but candidates with technology and energy experience have an advantage over those with a commercial law background. There are a lot of excellent commercial lawyers on the ground in Asia already but only a smaller pool of specialized technology and energy lawyers.
The UK is still a destination of choice for many lawyers and the looming specter of Brexit hasn’t changed this yet, but there is a degree of uncertainty on the future landscape which is impacting overseas hires, both from the EU and further afield. Lawyers from Australia, however, remain a good source of talent for the London market.
With the onset of Brexit, Ireland (and its favorable corporate tax) is increasingly a destination of choice to do business in the EU, particularly in the financial services and tech sectors. As a result, more international companies and law firms are either moving to or bulking out their capabilities in Dublin which has led to more legal opportunities, both in-house and in private practice.
Within continental Europe, language skills and local qualification are required in virtually every country apart from the Benelux region and Switzerland. In Amsterdam, Dutch language skills are preferred but there are a variety of opportunities for English speakers. Switzerland also offers opportunities for foreign qualified lawyers and business is done in English in most international companies. It can be difficult to secure a work visa depending on your nationality and the individual immigration rules of each country. Usually, if there are a lot of candidates on the ground with your skillset, there is a smaller chance that an employer will sponsor you.
Sadly, this is the least internationally mobile of jurisdictions in which I’ve worked. North America, despite its size, is a rather domestic market with limited appetite for foreign qualified lawyers. It is extremely difficult to secure a H1B visa, and anyone who requires that class of visa, including EU and British citizens, will struggle to find sponsorship. However, Australians qualify for the E3 visa which is much easier to obtain, while Canadians and Mexicans (as of time of writing) qualify for a TN visa under NAFTA.
Candidates with working rights, an LLM (and preferably bar admission) from a top U.S. law school, and experience from a major international law firm, will have a much better chance of securing a role than anyone else.
Generally speaking, anyone looking to relocate overseas will need either a major international law firm or an international blue chip company on their resume. Experience from local law firms or national companies will not generate much interest internationally, no matter how good your academics are. Working rights are almost a prerequisite for roles in the U.S and the UK, less so in Asia.