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Advance to Australia fair

13 July 15

Several dozen Scottish solicitors have found new careers in Australia. Many still value their Scottish qualification. Four of them told the Journal how their lives took such a turn

by Peter Nicholson

Of the several hundred Scottish solicitors working overseas, more than 60 are in Australia. Those who have worked for commercial firms, in particular, will find their skills readily transferable Down Under. Could you see yourself uprooting and attempting to join them? The big attractions are the climate and the lifestyle; it isn’t for the fainthearted, but the rewards are there for those willing to take the plunge.

The Law Society of Scotland is keen to set up a means for members there to network with each other – and keep up their links with their home country – as part of its strategic aims to engage with and promote its members, wherever they may be. But who are they, and what stories have they to tell? A few who have made the move shared their personal journeys with the Journal.

Diverse routes

Where to start? Some do their homework; some just take a punt. Ben Wray, a senior associate in the TMT team at Herbert Smith Freehills in Sydney, planned ahead. He and his wife had wanted the chance to move to where his wife had family, but it took persistence. “It was tough, with several months of late night and early morning phone calls and video conferences to recruiters and firms, 95% of which went nowhere,” he relates. “My advice for anyone looking to move out with a job already in place would be to take your time, do your research and be prepared to work hard and be patient. Having said that, I know plenty of Scottish lawyers working in Australia who either got the first job they went for or rocked up on a tourist visa and got a job once they arrived, so there’s no right way to do it.”

Ewan Robertson, partner in Piper Alderman’s Melbourne office, can vouch for that. Doing some travelling while on gardening leave between jobs in London, he “was offered and opportunistically accepted a position with a boutique law firm in Brisbane – it was one of these nothing ventured, nothing gained type decisions that you just take sometimes!”

Engaging a recruitment agent in your target destination is recommended by Denise McLaughlin, a senior associate with Squire Patton Boggs: “The legal market in Australia (particularly Perth where I am based) is small, so it is worth picking a recruiter who has worked in your chosen city for a while and knows the local market.”

It was the Journal back in 2008 that gave Kelly-Marie Lorimer, now legal counsel at BP Australia in Melbourne, the chance to move. “I came across an advert which depicted a lifeguard on an Australian beach with the name of the law firm that I eventually went to work for (Middletons) across the bum of the red Speedos! The photo, and the words ‘If you want to enjoy a work life balance, then we are the right firm for you’, had me sold. It was the middle of deepest, darkest, dreichest February in Glasgow, so the chance of sun and the opportunity to undertake overseas legal experience was too good to pass up.”

The hard bit

Once there, do you requalify? Many, but not all, do – but it takes a bit of effort. First of all your previous legal studies are assessed to see what gaps might have to be filled.

Robertson, for one, “wouldn’t hesitate” to recommend broadening your horizons with a spell abroad, in Australia or elsewhere, but advises that you look very carefully at the requalification requirements, “as I certainly had to sit a number of exams in Australia, even though the field of law I work in is actually very similar”.

“I won’t lie, the process was painful,” admits Lorimer, who has requalified and is aiming to be admitted to the Supreme Court. “I had to sit seven exams and in addition to a full-time job, the studying was hard going” – taking up much of her free time for two years out of the total three and a half including application time. Choosing the University of Sydney meant “travelling for intense weekend lectures and learning a lot of the course myself”. She adds: “I made sure that I was staying in Australia before undertaking the requalification.”

Wray similarly found it “not ideal”, since the full undergraduate courses, while not intrinsically difficult, “chew up a lot of evenings and weekends”. He adds: “The good news is that the big firms in Australia are quite happy employing foreign qualified lawyers in most areas of practice, so not being qualified doesn’t stop you getting a job. If you want to stay long term, become a partner or work in-house though, you need to get qualified at some point.”

McLaughlin, however, did not requalify. A construction lawyer who moved during a mining boom, she found the transition relatively easy, once she got used to the Australian standard forms and case law.

It’s an issue that the Law Society of Scotland is currently looking into, knowing that costs amount to around A$15,000 (£7,260) and that sitting the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test for England – perhaps when you are already in Australia – can significantly reduce the New South Wales exam requirements. Lobbying is under way to see if the differential can be reduced.

Further moves

Having moved, are our group there for good, and how do they see their careers unfolding? Three of the four look likely to stay. Lorimer, having initially decided to work in Australia for two years, has now been there for nearer seven and has taken out citizenship: “I can’t see myself moving home anytime soon, but never say never! I really love my job at BP and I hope to either work my way up the company here or use my experience and skill base to continue with an in-house legal counsel career elsewhere.”

Wray, who is about to move to a corporate counsel position, thinks he is there for good – “Certainly for a long time yet. The lifestyle is amazing, it’s usually warm and sunny, the people are great and the work is exciting. Did I mention the sport, food, beer and wine? In my new role, I’ll be providing HomeAway’s legal support in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and across the region, so I think I’ll have plenty development opportunities for the time being.”

Robertson relocated to Melbourne in January this year and has now worked in all the main Australian cities. “Although they are all very different, the approach is always refreshingly straightforward and direct,” he comments. “It’s a great environment.”

McLaughlin, however, is upping sticks: “We have had an amazing four and a half years in Australia (our daughter was born here), but would like to be located slightly closer to family in Scotland. As construction is now booming in the Middle East, we are packing our suitcases again and relocating to Qatar with Squire Patton Boggs.”

To help establish better contacts internationally, the Society sent the now Vice President Eilidh Wiseman on a fact-finding mission that included an informal get-together with expats in Sydney. There appears to be no local society or other means for them to keep in touch, but moves are afoot to see whether stronger links can be established.

It could be timely. The Scottish qualification is clearly well regarded internationally, and given recent mergers between Scottish and international legal firms, probably there have never been more opportunities for Scottish-trained lawyers to seek to develop their careers abroad.

Go for it

For all the caveats about the effort involved to make the transition, when asked what advice they would give to anyone considering a move to Australia, Wray and Lorimer both respond “Do it!”

Robertson “wouldn’t hesitate to recommend” a spell working abroad, whether Australia or elsewhere: “It very much broadens the horizons and makes you a much more complete and rounded lawyer.”

McLaughlin comments: “Australia is a beautiful place to live, so if you have done your research and identified work opportunities, then I recommend you take the plunge. It is a calculated risk, but it might be the best decision you ever made!”

Lorimer adds: “Life is short, and looking back, moving to Australia is the best thing I could have done. Any experience overseas is fantastic and leads to so much more opportunity – a change of lifestyle, culture, meeting new people and experiencing new things is the essence of life and it has certainly been a great experience for me.”

We have to give her the last word. “If it hadn’t been for the advert in the Journal back in January 2008, I would never even have considered moving to Australia! It was fate. I still talk about that advert yet!”


Four who got away

Ben Wray

Ben trained with Pinsent Masons from 2007 to 2009, then was fortunate to land a contracts job with Tesco Bank as it embarked on a huge project to break its links with RBS and set up as a stand-alone bank. He left in 2011 when he secured a post with the then Freehills in Sydney (it merged with Herbert Smith the following year). He was promoted to senior associate in 2013, but is now leaving to become regional corporate counsel for HomeAway.

Comments on moving abroad: “I would thoroughly recommend working abroad to anyone thinking it might be for them. Having said that, it’s not easy to move away from home and live and work in a new place and a new culture. I definitely underestimated the cultural differences in office culture to start off with... It takes a lot of time and effort to move across the world, make friends again, learn to fit into and work within a new culture and learn about the laws etc you need to know to practise. Looking back, it’s been 100% worth the effort.”

Kelly-Marie Lorimer

Kelly-Marie began at Maclay Murray & Spens, where she “met some great people who provided me with the inspiration and confidence to take on a corporate role”. A spell at Dundas & Wilson followed, including two valuable in-house secondments. Moving to Middletons in Australia, she spent four-and-a-half years there, in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), then financial services and banking, before switching in May 2013 to her current position at BP Australia.

Comments on moving abroad: “Lesson learned – number one – is back yourself... When I left university I would never have seen myself moving overseas with a law career, as I was a real home bird coming from a small town in the north-east of Scotland, but coming out of my comfort zone and placing myself in a new jurisdiction/country not only increased my interest in my career path, but made me realise that if you work hard and have faith in yourself, you will end up achieving things that you never imagined.

“I found the transition relatively easy... The great thing about moving away from your comfort zone is it forces you to meet new people and you become a much more rounded and confident person – networking skills increase tenfold! It is all about the mindset that you apply and how open you are to really making a go of things.”

Denise McLaughlin

Denise was a construction and projects lawyer who had never planned to practise overseas until Scottish winters forced her and her husband to rethink. “I have learned that it is important for lawyers to actively seek out interesting projects and opportunities, even if those opportunities are in another jurisdiction,” she comments. “Failure to do so could place you at a disadvantage in terms of learning and career development.”

Comments on moving abroad: “The most difficult thing was saying goodbye to family at the airport. Everything else was easy in comparison as Australian law firms frequently recruit lawyers admitted in a foreign jurisdiction. Consequently, they are very familiar with the visa process and will assist with the logistics of your move.

“Once I got started, I found Australian law firms to be very similar to those I had experienced in Glasgow in terms of culture and values... In my practice area, the biggest learning curve was getting to grips with Australian common law and standard forms of construction contract.”

Ewan Robertson

Ewan qualified at Dundas & Wilson in 1994, working in banking, then projects and eventually M&A. A partner from 2002, he moved to London a couple of years later to help build up the firm’s presence. In 2010 he joined a US firm’s new London office, but decided to move on a couple of years later – at which point he was given an unexpected chance to join a niche practice in Brisbane. After a year, he left with others to join his present firm, Piper Alderman, a mid-sized commercial practice.

Comments on moving abroad: “The transition itself was not too difficult as many of the legal principles are the same and the approach to corporate transactional work is very similar to Scotland and the UK. That said, it was sometimes hard getting my head around the Corporations Act as opposed to the Companies Act, and Australians love their acronyms, whether it is ASX, ACCC, CBD or whatever.”

Online extra

Ken Bates

Someone who made a sideways move away from legal practice is Kevin Bates, Group Head of Risk and Insurance at the international property and infrastructure group, Lend Lease Corporation, whose recent projects in the UK include the athletes' village for the London Olympics and the Hydro arena in Glasgow.

After training at Steedman Ramage in Edinburgh, Bates went to London, where he worked for the MDP of Ernst & Young; Tite & Lewis for almost four years. He moved to Lovells, completed his conversion course, and did a Masters in law, before deciding that in-house was where he wanted to be. Joining Lend Lease in London, he transferred to head office in Sydney to pursue a career in risk management – thus avoiding any issues about finding work when he went to Australia. After a four year spell in Singapore as head of risk for Asian operations (covering Singapore, Japan, Malaysia, China and Taiwan) he returned to Sydney as global head of risk and insurance.

“Being a lawyer in such a jurisdiction as Scotland really does provide a ‘ticket to ride’ in pretty much any other jurisdiction or role in which utilisation of legal skills and knowledge underpin the delivery of a position,” he comments. “I am immensely proud of being a Scottish qualified lawyer, and remain on the roll through that pride.” He has chosen not to qualify in Australia.

Now he has a wife and son Sydney, so has no immediate aspirations to leave – “But never say never… New York remains of keen interest to me.”

What advice would Bates give others considering the move? “Back yourself! A Scots law qualification really is a wonderful gateway to entry. The legal system and law firms in Aus lend themselves well to Scots coming over – and the lifestyle is an added bonus!”

He adds: “The discipline in Scotland is as good as any I have seen in both training and opportunity. I have also been delighted in recent months at the reach out the Law Society has made to get to know its members abroad. Long may this continue!”

 

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