If you are considering moving to Australia and practising law there are 3 key factors to consider.

Migration

The first step is your migration status. For non-residents or citizens to work in Australia you will need to hold a valid visa. There are various categories of visas that will provide you with working rights. Occasionally, organisations will sponsor international workers. The “skilled worker” lists provided by the Department of Immigration, lists the categories where visas are more easily obtained. Often an employer would have to provide evidence to prove there were an insufficient number of suitable Australian candidates to perform the job.

As law is significantly jurisdictionally specific it may be difficult for an employer to sponsor a foreign admitted lawyer on this basis. Therefore, you may want to consider exploring other avenues.

For advice on this you should contact a qualified migration lawyer or a registered migration agent. At Elias Recruitment, we can assist by providing you with suggestions to ensure the process is seamless for you if you require.

Requalifying

Requalifying is essential to practising in Australia. Law is very jurisdictionally focussed and it is not always as easy to transfer countries. Unless you are from New Zealand, which is under the Trans Tasman Mutual Recognition Act 1997, it is a fairly simple process.

In fact, it isn’t always that easy to change states. As Australia is a federation, each state (NSW, QLD, WA, SA, VIC and TAS) and each Territory (ACT and NT) have their own laws governing areas, from property to crime. Under the constitution, The Commonwealth makes laws for other areas including: Corporations, Family law, Trade Practices, Insolvency and IP.

Each state and territory has its own regulatory body that approves admissions. Overseas-qualified lawyers would need to apply to the relevant local regulator to determine what steps are needed to requalify. Each state has its own rules and inevitably judges each situation on a case-by-case basis. You will then need to lodge certain paperwork: eg your academic transcripts and references.

Please note: This can take 4-6 weeks so leave plenty of time.

List of relevant admitting authorities in Australia

Generally, lawyers from common law jurisdictions (such as England and Wales) have fewer steps. You may need to undertake a Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma in Australian Law. A certain number of subjects will also need to be undertaken on Australian specific legal areas, such as Constitutional Law.

Lawyers from civil jurisdictions (like Europe) may need to do a Juris Doctor. Once admitted in one jurisdiction it is easier to practice in other states and territories through the mutual recognition process. A good guide for admission in NSW is the Uniform Principles for Assessing qualifications.

Employability

So once you have gone through the process of requalifying and have the right to work in Australia – what are your actual chances of finding a suitable position?

Firstly, it is considerably more difficult if you are currently overseas than if you are already based locally. Law firms often prefer interviewing you face-to-face before making their ultimate decision.

In reality, many lawyers tend to be risk adverse – so generally will only hire candidates with local law experience, over foreigners who need to come up to speed with the relevant laws. There are obvious exceptions – for example, when I practised in a large firm, there were several UK qualified lawyers who were able to work on significantly large-scale M& A transactions, as their skill sets were highly transferrable and in demand. In comparison, areas such as litigation with complex procedures may not be as easy.

In certain circumstances, coming from overseas and having a particular understanding of language and culture of an ethnic or linguistic group can help differentiate your skill-set and give you an advantage in finding a job servicing those particular client’s demographics.

As a recruiter, I once experienced a particular scenario, where I was approached by a Canadian partner, who was considering the relocation to Sydney after marrying an Australian. She was from a highly respected law firm and practised in the area of Employment law. With the change of government in Australia the employment laws radically changed so she was able to come up to speed with the new laws just like all the other local lawyers. All of her great BD, communication skills etc. were transferrable and whilst she took a pay cut initially she was soon recognised as a standout and promoted to partner. Sometimes securing quasi legal roles such as Contracts Managers are a good first step.

Conclusion

Whilst there are a few minor hurdles to overcome, there are a number of success stories where overseas lawyers have taken the plunge to requalify in Australia and have created highly rewarding careers. It is certainly achievable once you are aware of the relevant rules and regulations and place an emphasis on the transferability of your skills. Highlighting your unique strengths and describing how your particular skills can transfer seamlessly into the position will ultimately boost your credibility and increase your chances of becoming employed.

At Elias Recruitment, we can provide in depth insight into the law firm or company of your choice and help you boost your chances of becoming successfully employed.