Do you come from a land Down Under?
A former Scottish lawyer, now living in Sydney, sets out some of the key benefits a UK-qualified solicitor might experience when moving to Australia
Having spent my formative years as a lawyer in rainy Glasgow and brisk Aberdeen, it is fair to say that Australia’s weather represents a significant step-up in quality. While rainy days are possible, they tend to be few and far between, and the ability to plan a beach visit or BBQ more than a day in advance is a real bonus!
Sydney’s beaches, Melbourne’s culture, Brisbane’s sunshine, Perth’s rugged beauty and Adelaide’s tranquillity (and wine!) make the transition from the UK a very attractive proposition. While perhaps remote in UK terms, having a base in Australia opens up a range of travel opportunities in Australasia (and beyond) that may previously have been out of the reach of even the most adventurous UK traveller.
For families, Australia has a very strong state school system and each city has a wealth of safe and friendly suburbs in which to set up your new home base, each with their own unique identity.
The cost of living in Sydney is certainly higher than Scotland (with city centre rents somewhere between Edinburgh and London levels), but the salaries (as discussed in more detail below) are also higher. In most cases, you will be comfortable enough to afford to live a walkable distance from the office, with pocket money to spare for all your new outdoor pursuits.
I’ve found Australians to be extremely friendly and welcoming to ex-pats, as the country is very multicultural. This lends itself to a superb choice of cuisines (especially in Sydney and Melbourne) for food lovers and a friendly and welcoming vibe in the cities.
Australia has a sophisticated, internationally focused and growing legal market. Solicitors qualified in easily transferable areas including corporate and commercial, banking and finance, capital projects (construction), capital markets (both equity and debt), energy and resources, real estate, and IP/IT will find the transition to Australian practice very straightforward. In fact, the majority of commercial law areas practised in Scotland are in demand in Australia. Most firms encourage their international solicitors to re-qualify within two years of their start date, but usually provide study leave and time off for exams. In the gap period prior to re-qualification, you can continue to practise as a foreign qualified lawyer.
In general terms, the quality of both work and clients is on par with that offered in most UK firms (except for some top London/US practices, of course). The proximity of Asia also lends itself to a high percentage of cross-border deals.
There is no doubt that Australian lawyers work hard; however, they also get rewarded accordingly. I have yet to come across a practice where there is a “facetime” culture, as most firms recognise that their international staff will want to get out and enjoy the benefits that their new home city has to offer. I’ve found Australians to have a generally healthy outlook, and as such, firms are well aware of the importance of adequate downtime to decompress outside of the office.
In the last decade, several top international firms have set up shop in Australia and the new competition has served to bolster an already buoyant legal market – a real selling point, given the current uncertainty in the UK. Firms look favourably upon UK qualified lawyers, as the perception of the UK legal market is that the quality of work and training is of a very high standard.
Salaries in the major Australian cities are generally high, especially when compared to most Scottish and regional UK firms. Leading Australian firms will remunerate you on a par with top London firms (with the obvious extra benefits as described above), so a move to the southern hemisphere can be as financially rewarding as it is in terms of lifestyle. The current state of the British pound is another obvious advantage, as the Australian dollar is very strong in comparison.
Australian lawyers’ salaries are based on their years of post-qualification experience and this is another area where UK lawyers can see an uplift. Most Australian firms will take your trainee seats into consideration when assessing your equivalent PQE, generally resulting in UK lawyers seeing a +1 increase to their traditional UK PQE.
The top Australian firms will assist with relocation costs and visa applications. Qualified lawyers are generally deemed “essential” employees for visa purposes, so sponsored visas (with the option of applying for permanent residency) are the norm. It is also possible for spouses and partners to gain entry on your sponsored visa, subject to some conditions.
Glenn Johnston is recruitment manager at Montgomery Advisory Pty Ltd, Sydney
Having made the move in 2016, I can say without hesitation that Australia is a viable, accessible and fantastic option for any UK-based lawyers keen to spread their wings and practice in a growing, vibrant (and sunny!) legal market.