International Relocations by Australian Lawyers – 2019 vs 2020 & predicting 2021
Written by Thomas Eckardt on 31st March, 2021
There was a 91% decrease in international relocations (Australian lawyers moving to London, Hong Kong, New York and Singapore) from 2019 to 2020. The two main takeaways from this data are: (i) this is a huge, but not unexpected, drop; and yet (ii) even during the peak of the pandemic, lawyers were able to relocate from Australia. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the moves that happened in 2020 occurred at the start and end of the calendar year.
2019 vs 2020 Data
Looking at 2019 as a guide, we can get a feel for what a ‘normal’ year for international relocations look like:
- 50% of international movers went to London, 17% to NYC, 24% to Hong Kong and 9% to Singapore.
- PQE spread was wide:
- Singapore = 3 to 8 PQE, average being 4 PQE, with the range from 3 to 5 PQE accounting for 70% of the moves.
- Hong Kong = 1 to 6 PQE, average being 2PQE, with the range from 1 to 3 PQE accounting for 75% of the moves.
- New York = 1 to 5 PQE, average being 2PQE, with the range of 2 to 4 PQE accounting for 80% of the moves.
- London = 1 to 8+ PQE, average being 4PQE, with the range of 3 to 5 PQE accounting for 85% of the moves.
- 77% of international movers went to London, 15% went to NYC, with 4% each going to Hong Kong and Singapore.
- 75% of the lawyers that moved to London were between 2 and 5 PQE.
- The average PQE for a lawyer relocating to NYC, HK and Singapore was 4 PQE.
How did people make the move in 2020?
18% of the moves were internal transfers. The top firms that enabled internal moves were: Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy and Herbert Smith Freehills. This does not, however, take into account ‘best friend relationships’ that firms have with international organisations.
If you want to relocate internationally, the firm you work for in Australia matters. 90% of the international moves to a Magic Circle or US firm that happened last year came from lawyers working at a top-tier firm in Sydney (including, the likes of Gilbert + Tobin and Corrs Chambers Westgarth).
Your practice area matters. 66% of the moves that happened last year were by lawyers working in a transactional department: M&A, Private Equity, Capital Markets, General Lending, Finance etc.
Key Takeaways for people looking to maximise their chances of moving internationally
For obvious reasons, 2020 was one of the hardest years to make an international move. That said, certain lawyers still managed to relocate. We can therefore conclude that the following criteria will maximise your chances of making a move:
- Wait until you are between 2-5 PQE in Australia
- Work in a transactional department (M&A, PE, Finance, Capital Markets)
- Work for a top-tier firm for a number of years
- Key international firms to consider for relocations (both internal and external): Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Allens, HSF and Ashurst
- National firms with most international relocators: Gilbert + Tobin and Corrs Chambers Westgarth
- Most moves happened in Q1 (Jan-Mar) and Q3 (Jul-Sept)
- London is the most likely destination
Predicting the future
We have already started to see more international relocations in 2021. Assuming (always a risk) that things return to some form of normality, then we can expect relocations to return to close to 2019 levels.
Our predictions for the year ahead:
- Singapore will become a more common destination in 2021 and 2022.
- There is less desire and practical ability to relocate to Hong Kong as China exert more control in the area.
- The potential for a travel ‘bubble’ with Australia.
- There are a large number of foreign/international firms based in Singapore and we are aware of a number of new firms looking to make a move into the area.
- London demand to steadily increase as the year progresses.
- Brexit, worsening economic conditions and relocation of some of the larger banks away from London would typically suggest that demands would slow. However, due to the relative ease for Australians to move to London and the fact that it is still a core global legal market, firms are still likely to hire Australian lawyers.
- New York will return to normal as the year progresses.
- New York is always a tough city to relocate to as there is a significant supply of strong domestic talent. We do not predict that the difficulty of this move will change significantly.
- PQE level for international relocation will increase.
- The average PQE level needed to make the move will generally increase as firms will not want to spend time and money training the international hires – this was a trend we saw post-GFC.