It is a pretty much an evens bet that most Kiwi lawyers will spend at least a short spell in their career overseas. In the heady days before the GFC it was particularly easy to move to a good, lucrative job in London, Sydney or Hong Kong. New Zealanders are regarded as well-educated, well-trained, down-to-earth and hard working and therefore have long been welcomed into roles in some of the world’s very biggest and best law firms.
Whilst the GFC changed the kind of opportunities available, it did nothing to dampen the spirit of adventure and many lawyers still headed off-shore. This time however fewer people secured the type of role that would forge their career forwards, instead they changed direction, took contract roles and generally did whatever it takes to fund a couple of years of RyanAir and EasyJet weekends away.
Now as the recovery appears to be in full swing Kiwi lawyers are still heading overseas, whilst at the same time others are deciding to come home. As has always been the case their prospects have been altered by their overseas experiences but this time not always for the better.
Those who went pre-GFC may have had great experience in leading firms and that hard-working Kiwi attitude has seen them rise through the ranks and be well-rewarded. What is has also done is leave them at a senior level with no local network or clients to offer an employer back in Aotearoa. Those who went during the GFC have for the most part simply paused their career and not really had the opportunity to add to much too whatever PQE level they were when they left.
Now we could have a very lengthy debate about whether this is fair or reflects the reality of the experience gained overseas, but whether based on perception or reality many of those coming home have found it a struggle to get back into the New Zealand market. The first advice I would offer is to accept that the perception exists and it is something you will need to address. Think of it as the need to argue your case.
- Interpret your experience for the audience. Focus on skills rather than subject matter. It is a fact some areas of law simply do not exist in New Zealand or not to the degree that a firm would need a specialist o you need to point out how you could add value.
- Spend some time updating and refreshing your knowledge. Show that you know what is missing and are taking steps to fill the gap.
- Be flexible and open-minded. Consider taking a step backwards to take two steps forward.
Finally, and most importantly, keep in mind why you wanted to come home in the first place. Usually it is family, environment, lifestyle or simply a return to the familiar. I can’t remember a single candidate saying they were coming home to New Zealand for better quality work, a higher salary and career progression.