Skip to content

Internationalize your legal career

After years of hard work and patience getting through law school and the lawyer qualification process, you have finally made it. You are a lawyer.

So, what now?

If the past few years of education and training have taught you anything, it is that if you follow the process you will be fine. However, as the legal industry goes through a state of technological disruption and cost-cutting initiatives, traditional paths to success are constantly being challenged. Junior lawyers need to focus on crafting a unique narrative and building a personal brand to stay relevant in today’s job market. Internationalizing your legal career is not only valuable but will undoubtedly be a life-changing experience.

Here are six steps that can help you start this process:

Step 1: Create boundaries

Create boundaries for yourself so that you can keep the scope of your job search within reason. Are you interested in a major legal market (e.g. London, New York, Hong Kong) or a strategic hub (e.g. Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai)? Consider your language abilities, interested practice area, work-permit requirements, as well as your preferred requirements: private practice or in-house, local climate and culture, income tax benefits, etc. Your guidelines are subjective to your situation, so take some time to understand your criteria before you dive into the global job market. Start by ranking your top three cities and summarize the pros and cons, being deliberate and realistic with your choices. Target locations that contribute to your intended narrative, such as gaining exposure to a niche practice area or expanding your contacts in a developing market.

Step 2: Update your application package

Do your research on the format in which your CV needs to be, as this will all depend on your intended legal market. For instance, firms or companies that practise English law will want to see your education placed up top with grades dating back to high school. Having a deal list is crucial — make sure it is updated by providing a summary of the most recent cases or transactions in which you were involved and the role you played. At times, you will be asked to elaborate and defend your deal list at an interview, so make sure it is truthful and comprehensive. Update your cover letter, addressing the key question of why you are deciding to commit the next few years of your life to that city or geographical area. Be prepared to submit writing samples, reference letters and copies of your transcripts and licensing certifications.

Step 3: Local networking

This is the most important task you do, and it is one that will benefit your job search exponentially. Go for lunch with your colleagues, friends, alumni, anyone that has time for you. Share your plans with everyone and express how excited you are about it. You will be surprised how many people will want to introduce you to a friend or provide you with some valuable advice or resource. Your Canadian network can vouch for you to their international contacts and, from there, you can build on those relationships to gain exposure to the local region. Maintaining a supportive network in Canada will benefit your international profile once overseas. Through meetings with my friends in Canada, I was fortunate to have connected with contacts in Dubai, Qatar, Singapore and Hong Kong. This is the start to building your international network — the earlier you start, the wider your reach becomes.

Step 4: Harnessing social media and job search websites

Linkedin has now become the unofficial initial screening process, so make sure it is impressive as breaking into international legal markets is highly competitive. This means uploading a professional headshot, taking advantage of the open candidates and job seeker options, cleaning up your public profile and creating job alerts. Less is more, so be concise with your job descriptions and remove irrelevant and dated experiences that do not add to your brand. Other great resources include indeed.com, monster.com and totallylegal.com. Depending on your intended region, local job search websites and forums will be more useful; for instance, in Hong Kong, many use jobsdb.com and efinancialcareers.hk.

Step 5: Relationship with recruiters

Developing a relationship with recruiters is important: They are professionals and not a job bank. Legal recruiters are generally separated by private or in-house practice, and backgrounds will vary from dedicated HR professionals to former lawyers. After speaking to around four to six recruiters in a region, you will start to see repeats of job descriptions. Keep track of the recruiters with whom you engage and the firms and companies to which they have helped you apply. Try to select recruiters that have a personal and long-standing relationship with the hiring manager/recruiting lawyer. Make sure to provide explicit instructions to your recruiter to not share your salary or application documents unless they have your consent. Be careful with having your recruiters apply to the same law firm or company, as firms will not look favourable on this shotgun tactic and you may be blacklisted for a period before being allowed to reapply.

Step 6: Plan a visit

If you are truly serious about this next phase in your career, you owe it to yourself to visit your intended cities of choice. Considerations such as the climate, local cuisine, work culture and size of accommodation may not become apparent until you are experiencing it first-hand. Once you are on the ground, your local contacts and recruiters become more willing to meet and help as you have demonstrated your sincerity in showing up for a chat. There are many instances where I have only been offered an interview because I was free for a random afternoon drop-in. At the end of the day, it is much more memorable to shake someone’s hand than submit a CV from miles away.

Remember to enjoy the process. This international pivot is not only exciting, it will also be a key part of your narrative when you start to build your practice and client book as a junior lawyer.

Daniel Lo is a Canadian and English lawyer, admitted to practice in Ontario, Alberta and England and Wales. His practice involves private equity, funds and mergers and acquisitions.