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A blog with tips and insights into the practice of law

Lawyers, why you should consider Australia (It’s not about the beaches, it’s about the work culture)

One may ask, why would I want to work in a market that seems relatively closed off to foreign lawyers…

The Australian legal market is surely not the most open in the world. The diversity of profiles that are recruited is not as strong as, for instance, in London or Singapore, and firms will ask you to requalify as soon as possible, whilst in many jurisdictions you can easily practice under your own (foreign) title as long as you don’t sign documents or use the local title that refers to a lawyer.

… And where a Special Counsel earns as much as NQ lawyer on the Cravath pay scale?

On top of that, salaries are comparatively lower than in many major jurisdictions. Yes, newly qualified lawyers in New York or London who are on the much revered “Cravath pay scale” will make on their first year as much money as a Special Counsel with 10 years + of experience at a top tier firm in Sydney. Inconvenient Truth.

It’s about the work culture, stupid!

Then, if it’s not for money, why should Australia definitely be on the top of the list of lawyers seeking to work overseas? I am not going to play the “sun & year-round-beach lifestyle” verse again. It’s been discussed many times – yes, we do have amazing beaches and your Sydney office will likely have a view over the Harbour or the Opera House. Great, but that’s still not it.

The main reason why Australia should be on the map for Foreign lawyers looking to relocate is because the work culture at law firms here is superior, at least when compared to what you can find in Europe. And by “superior”, I mean more able to allow lawyers to enjoy their work and not spend their day dreaming of how they could possibly be escaping their firm or even the Law.

I have worked for a couple of years in Paris for a range of major French and US firms and most of my friends were lawyers at similar “big law” law firms. A significant part of them (and I should say “us”, as it includes me), maybe a majority, all super well trained and having worked really hard to get there, were constantly talking about how/when they could escape. Escape to a smaller firm, escape in-house, escape to set up an oyster bar in the South of France or a bike repair shop in Denmark.

I don’t get the same sort of feeling here in Australia. Or at least not in the same proportion. My lawyer friends or the people I get to talk to within the legal profession seem, for the most part, happy in their jobs.

Why is the Australian law firm culture better than in Europe?

That is an anecdotal observation and I have unfortunately no scientific explanations for this. However, I have noticed a couple of differences that are worth mentioning:

Facetime is less a thing and there is a greater consideration for work life balance

A couple of days ago, I met in the Sydney CBD a M&A Senior Associate whom I placed a few months ago at a large international law firm. It was 6.30pm and he was on his way back home. I told myself that I would never, ever, have spotted a M&A Senior Associate more than 50 meters away of his computer during a weekday in Paris and, I think it tells a lot about the work culture. Aussie lawyers have billable hours targets and they are not different of those in Paris or in any other major jurisdictions. But “facetime” is not really a thing here, contrary to what I have noticed too much back home.

Aussie lawyers work hard, spend evenings at work when they need to, but they usually don’t need to stay at the office for the sake of staying or because their supervisor hasn’t left yet. In general, there is also a greater consideration for work life balance – Aussie lawyers will try to keep their work days as compact as possible to finish earlier and weekends at the office are less frequent.

Less hierarchy and a less aristocratic work culture.

There is also less hierarchy and partners are in general (in general, as there are unfortunately some terrible exceptions to this) way more approachable, which is probably a positive consequence of a more relaxed, more egalitarian and less aristocratic work culture (and law firm culture in particular).

Law firms are well structured and have a high-level of support staff.

The market concentration and the structure of law firms into very large partnerships is probably a positive factor. Law firms here are better organised, and they have an army of non-fee earner staff in charge of making lawyers’ life at the office a bit easier. It’s a significant cost for firms, and as a recruiter I am always amazed by the fact that many firms are actually recruiting more non-fee earner staff than lawyers, but I am also convinced that it does have a big impact on the “livability” of the work environment.