A global firm with global opportunities
As business, law and finance become ever more globally integrated, a new and specific class of lawyer is needed, one with a clear understanding of how the requirements of their clients are changing in this increasingly international landscape.
As a successful global firm we look for people who have an international outlook. As a trainee, you will work closely with colleagues across our international offices and will build up a network of cross-jurisdictional contacts. Many of our trainees take up the opportunity to work in one of our global offices on secondment which gives them a better understanding of how business works in other regions, and lasting contacts with clients and colleagues in other jurisdictions. To read more about our Training Contract and the international opportunities that come with it click here.
Lawyers at the largest firms lead increasingly international careers. That can mean getting in early or staying late to be on a call, or jumping in a cab to get to the airport. For trainees and some lawyers it can mean an international secondment, but for many, just visiting other countries is not enough – they want to stay and at Allen & Overy those opportunities become a reality for many of our employees.
Being a global lawyer in Hong Kong
Peter and Alan are lawyers at Allen & Overy and both have experienced working in Asia. Peter is now a senior associate and has moved back to the UK, where he is currently on a client secondment. Alan is now a special counsel, but is still based in Hong Kong.
To many, Hong Kong has a mystique or an aura that few other places can rival. It’s a place where East doesn’t so much meet West as collide with it in a maelstrom of noise, colour and activity. So, it’s perhaps not without reason that a popular souvenir T-shirt brought back by visitors to the territory bears the slogan ‘I survived Hong Kong’.
A competitive environment
“It’s a very competitive environment,” says Alan, whose relationship with the territory goes back to 1990 when he first went out there on a two-year secondment, working at the time for Simmons & Simmons. “More and more players are in the legal market, including the U.S., Australian and, on the horizon, Chinese firms. It’s not like London where your reputation carries you along – you have to fight for every piece of work.” “But,” he quickly adds, “that’s the fun, that’s the challenge.”
For Alan, those initial two years turned into five and then he joined Allen & Overy to set up the firm’s Regulatory practice in 1995, before becoming a partner in 1998. “In Hong Kong you have a lot of freedom to imprint yourself on the market; there are fewer day-to-day constraints on how you operate and, particularly now that I’m at a senior level, I can do what I feel is appropriate.”
Proving that making partner isn’t the end of the journey, Alan left Hong Kong in 2000, returning to the UK for eight years as a consultant in the Regulatory, Funds and Financial Products group in the London Banking practice. However, Hong Kong exerts a fascination that is hard to resist and in 2008 he returned to the East again, this time as a partner.
Peter’s career, although much shorter, has also seen him making the most of the firm’s international network – or, to put it another way, bouncing around between locations.
He joined the firm as a trainee in 2006, and after two seats in London, spent three months in Prague and then accepted a fourth-seat secondment in Hong Kong, before qualifying into the International Capital Markets practice. He transferred back to the UK in 2013 and is now on client secondment.
“It is always in the back of my mind that I might go back to Hong Kong,” he says. “It’s just such a vibrant and exciting place to live. The work was interesting and the lifestyle was great fun.”
“At first it seemed like a totally alien environment,” he continues. “The language, the food, the culture and the temperature – I’ll never forget how hot it got there – but you quickly adapt. It’s not long before I was planning my first weekend away to one of the many exotic locations nearby.” It’s true, Hong Kong is not a bad place to go exploring from, with easy connections to mainland China, the Philippines, Bali, Thailand, Singapore and even Australia.
Peter lived in the centre of the city just outside the main financial district and only a 15-minute walk to work. “I loved living in the heart of such an exciting and dynamic city,” he says, “but when the weekend came, it was easy to escape the hustle and head out to the countryside or one of the many beaches. The firm also retains a junk [a boat] that staff can charter for the day or the evening and have a party in the harbour or head up to the outlying islands for a spot of water-skiing or wakeboarding.”
Alan, on the other hand, with a family to share his love of Hong Kong, has opted for a more tranquil setting. “Where I live now,” he says, “it’s very green with views of the islands and the water, the beach is nearby and there are lovely walks – as long as you steer clear of the snakes. Even in such a small place it’s easy to find tremendous contrasts to the concrete, glass and neon of the city.”
Allen & Overy’s office in Hong Kong, established in 1988 and home to 129 lawyers, is the hub of the firm’s Asian network. Lawyers working there can expect to take on transactions that span the region with a particular focus on the booming Chinese economy. “There’s certainly a lot of money flowing around there at the moment,” says Peter, “and the economy is not in the doldrums like it is in the West. I worked in the International Capital Markets department, focusing mostly on derivatives and structured finance, and there’s still a lot of optimism in the market with the opportunities presented by the opening of the Chinese market and the positive economic growth from the region’s emerging markets.”
The trick to making the move a success – particularly with regard to work – they both say, is to go into it with enthusiasm and to leave your assumptions at the airport.
“The legal framework is based on common law, like the UK,” says Alan, “so it seems familiar but there are subtle differences which means that a lot of your UK knowledge doesn’t apply. ‘Regulated activities’ or ‘asset management’ for example are familiar phrases, but they have completely different meanings here.”
“Coming to Hong Kong,” he continues, “is about grabbing opportunities, and not just the legal stuff. There are also fantastic social activities and an extremely active pro bono side to the office that will expose you to yet another aspect of Hong Kong that you might not encounter otherwise.”
Peter agrees. “We were involved in many innovative transactions which are often cross-jurisdictional and across product groups. This made the work very interesting and meant I was often working with many different colleagues within the Hong Kong office and also from across our Asia Pacific network,” he says. “But, above all, it’s the lifestyle and the people. You can combine an international, city-type role with a passion for sports, the outdoor life and travel.”
His advice to would-be trainees is to think not just about the location but also the practice areas and where you might want to qualify. “Talk to current trainees,” he says, “and try to get a feel for the work and the life they’re experiencing.”
“You have to embrace the culture,” advises Alan. “There are lots of familiar things – Marks & Spencer for example, or the fact that the roads work the same way, but it’s the differences that make it interesting and the fact that you can access travel and other experiences that are just not available in the UK.”
But there’s one piece of cultural assimilation that is beyond even this seasoned traveller. “You have to draw the line somewhere,” he says, “and for me it’s chicken’s feet for lunch (or, indeed, any time).”
Being a global lawyer in Dubai
David is now a partner in Abu Dhabi
The promise of the Middle East
“The sun is shining,” says David Miles, “and it’s hot, very hot. Between October and March the climate is beautiful, but for the rest of the year, during the daytime, you’d better be indoors or in water – it’s seriously hot.”
Not that David travelled all the way to Dubai to make a weather report. He’s part of the firm’s rapidly expanding presence in the Middle East – a response to the growing demand for international commercial legal advice from a burgeoning business and financial economy.
And in fact, he didn’t travel there from London, but New York where he had worked as a senior associate for two years. Before that he was based in the firm’s Tokyo office for two years. David is happy to describe himself as “a bit of nomad” remembering that, even during his Training Contract, which began in 2000, he had itchy feet and spent a six-month seat in Hong Kong.
“I’ve spent less than three years in the UK as a qualified lawyer, and six months of that was spent on secondment to a client. You hear about opportunities in other offices and, before you know it, you’re on a plane and setting out on a new chapter in your career.”
“Dubai is an incredible place to live and work,” he says. “I think one of the things that makes it so interesting from a career perspective is the variety of work you’re exposed to. It’s a much smaller office than London, so you just can’t be as specialised.”
Like many people working abroad David enjoys an active social and sporting life, which includes rugby, despite the heat. “My experience is that people get out and do a lot more, they don’t save up their social lives for the weekend like they do at home,” he says.
His advice for people thinking of working overseas is not to approach it as an enormous decision. “Be open minded,” he says. “Don’t think of it as a block of time exiled from family and friends back home, but as a fantastic opportunity to have a new career and general life experiences. And of course, you can always go home; no one takes your passport away.”
“The best piece of advice I can offer to trainees coming here,” says partner Simon Roderick, “is to remember that you are a guest in another country, and bring a can-do attitude and an open mind.” He should know, having spent the last 20 years in the UAE.
“We’ve gone from one small office in Dubai to four in the Middle East, and from five lawyers to over 100 and counting,” he says. “And, more importantly, we’re now a significant contributor to the firm’s revenues.”
“But what makes the UAE different, and interesting,” says Simon, “is the fact that we’re operating in a civil rather than common law jurisdiction – it’s fundamentally different.” The creation in 2003 of the Dubai International Financial Centre – effectively an offshore jurisdiction in which international financial institutions and their advisers can operate and be regulated separately from the rest of the UAE – has, however, given the territory a major boost, and spawned greater competition for legal services in the region.
“The UAE has real strategic importance these days,” says Simon.
“It’s the emerging markets that have the greatest growth potential and, candidly, you have to have a high-quality presence here on the ground to pick up the outward investment.”
“The competition is intensifying, so you have to be constantly on top of your game and keep bringing out high-calibre individuals to the region. And when they get here,” he adds, “they have to adapt quickly to a different style of working.” “The UAE”, explains Simon, “requires a very commercial, proactive approach. What clients want to know is ‘can we do it, yes or no?’. They don’t want a legal essay but straightforward, practical and commercial advice regarding issues that they may be tackling for the first time.”
Studied Law at Cambridge University.
I want a career that provides a constant intellectual challenge and allows me to continue to learn and develop a range of skills.
Being a solicitor at Allen & Overy is exactly that. A&O’s scope of work includes commercial, economic, political and international dimensions across a range of industries, which has made both my A&O training contract, and my experience as an associate in the corporate department very varied. As a trainee, I worked on deals and matters involving media, corporate governance, the regulation of the UK’s financial sector, renewable energy, and oil and gas before going on an international secondment to the firm’s Paris office.
A big part of my role, both as a trainee and an associate, is to quickly develop an understanding of our clients’ business: what direction their sector is moving in, what pressures they are facing, how their particular industry is changing. Being able to advise our clients often requires having an understanding of the law as well as being able to analyse how the law can be applied to solve problems, resolve situations or capitalise on opportunities particular to their industry.
As a trainee I worked very closely with a supervisor in each seat who spent a lot of time supporting and guiding me. Alongside that, each department provides a variety of training sessions, such as fortnightly team meetings or presentations of recent deals and transactions, where experts in a particular field provide updates on recent legal and commercial developments. [These training sessions and meetings also give us an insight into the experience of the firm’s network and who we could contact for advice on a particular issue; in a global firm such as A&O that person could be sitting at the desk next to yours, in another department or on the other side of the world.]
During my training contract I was given the opportunity to spend 6 months’ on an international secondment to A&O’s Paris office, working in the Banking and Project Finance department[which was an area I’d worked in as a trainee in London]. I was living in Paris, acting mostly for French banks and companies, providing advice and assistance on English law governed transactions. As a trainee, this could include advising on points of law and working closely with our clients and the deal team to ensure that the transaction process [from the initial negotiation of the legal documents to the signing of these documents] is managed efficiently. As a fourth seat trainee, I was able to take on more substantive work and so, from a development perspective, my time in Paris definitely pushed me to learn new skills and competencies.
A&O takes great care of its secondees while on international secondment. I was able to live in a centrally located apartment 10 minutes from the office and was given weekly language lessons before and during my secondment. My French wasn’t great before I went, and whilst I woudn’t now say I’m fluent, I definitely saw an improvement!
I had a great time living and working in Paris and was able to explore the museums, galleries and enjoy the French culture, while also developing an understanding of A&O’s wider global network. As one of a number of international secondees based in Paris, I developed strong friendships with the other trainees and associates based in Paris and I am still in contact with colleagues I met whilst there.
For me, working and living in Paris was a highlight of my training contract. It was fantastic to live and work in such a vibrant European city, and it’s definitely something I’d recommend to anyone joining A&O.