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  1. 1. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 1 continued on backOver the past decade, international hasbecome the buzzword of choice for almostevery industry, and law is no exception. Theidea of the global law firm made the transi-tion from pipe dream to reality as foreignlegal markets began to open up and domesticlaw firms began to spawn overseas branchesby the dozen. This has been particularly trueof large U.S. law firms, which have been ableto capitalize on the near-universal accep-tance of American corporate law as the inter-national legal standard. Almost any foreigntransaction which has repercussions in theU.S. (read: virtually every foreign transac-tion) is subject to regulation by the U.S.Securities and Exchange Commission; as aresult, a whole new spectrum of opportuni-ties has opened up to attorneys.Ramez Nasser, an associate in the U.S. lawgroup of Allen & Overy in London, describesthe global lawyer as someone who delightsin a “truly international practice with a genu-inely entrepreneurial spirit. Those who enjoyaccepting responsibility, travel, and intellec-tual challenge will find it a perfect fit.”Who Can Go Abroad?JDs are regularly offered the chance to traveloutside the country to work on single trans-actions or arbitrations, and firms encouragethem to accept temporary overseas postings.Tsugu Watanabe, a partner in the globalproject finance department at Milbank TweedHadley & McCloy in New York, regularlytravels to the Tokyo office. “Rising second-year associates at Milbank are offered theopportunity to undertake a voluntary rotationin an overseas office for two to three months.This program is designed to expose associ-ates at an early stage in their careers to thebreadth and excitement of practicing in oneof our international offices,” says Watanabe.“Because our overseas offices are smallerand the number of lawyers staffed on dealsis lower, young associates often have moreindividual responsibility and get greaterhands-on experience than they might in oneof our U.S. domestic offices.”At the same time, Watanabe points out, it’snot a sink-or-swim mentality: “Though wewant our young associates to accept a lotof responsibility in the foreign offices, as-sistance and support are always waiting forthem from our domestic offices.”Since most of the work done in the foreignoffices of American or British firms is trans-actional, corporate lawyers often get firstdibs on overseas assignments. Still, litigatorscan avail themselves of chances to work oninternational arbitrations, though these op-portunities are harder to come by. Moreover,there are some notable exceptions to therule: Morrison & Foerster’s Tokyo office,which opened in response to clients’ litiga-tion needs, is one of the few foreign officesof an American firm that offer litigators anopportunity to work abroad on a permanentbasis.Many large law firms with multiple foreignoffices allow summer associates to spendseveral weeks at one of their branches. Thisis a relatively risk-free way for law studentsto try it out before they take the plungeand commit to a foreign placement. SarahWhittington, a student from Harvard LawSchool who summered at the London officeof Kirkland & Ellis, notes, “Even though I hadworked in England before, working thereas a lawyer was really eye-opening. A lot isexpected of you even on the first day, so Ifelt that there were no artificial limitationsput on me simply because I was a summerassociate.”Others who are benefiting from the globaliza-tion of law firms are LLMs, who are generallyolder and have more work experience thantheir JD classmates. Since they already havecontacts and experience, they may be ableto bring more to the table than their youngercounterparts; LLMs often act as the bridgebetween domestic and foreign attorneys.Andrew Mitchell, a recent LLM graduate ofthe Harvard Law School, has worked on bothsides of the Pacific-at Farris, Vaughan, Wills& Murphy in Vancouver and Allens ArthurRobinson in Melbourne-and has straddledthe Atlantic as well, spending a summer atDavis Polk & Wardwell in New York beforecontinuing his studies in international tradelaw at the University of Cambridge. Firmsseeking more versatile and seasoned lawyerswho are unafraid of spending time abroadare finding LLMs like Mitchell increasinglyattractive as prospective recruits.Why Go Abroad?Perhaps the two most obvious reasons togo are great learning opportunities and thesatisfaction of wanderlust. Watanabe notes,“One of the purposes of [Milbank’s foreignPosted Abroad: Law Firm Associates Go International[Matthew Ahn]Talk of “global” law firms was once just propaganda from national or regional firms wishing to appear more impressive to their clients. But today, more andmore attorneys are finding themselves at firms with truly worldwide reach.
  2. 2. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 2 continuedrotation] program is to give young associateswho are interested in working overseas theopportunity to test the waters and see if it’sreally for them. We want to create a largergroup of attorneys who are knowledgeableabout and have experience in our foreign of-fices-these are often the attorneys who laterdecide to undertake longer work rotationsabroad.”Whittington agrees: “Because the [London]office was smaller than Kirkland’s Americanoffices, the work environment was a lot moreintimate and I received a higher degree ofresponsibility than I would have back in theStates.”For those law students and associates whoare fortunate enough to know exactly whichpractice area they want to be in, working inoverseas offices may be one of the best op-tions for training, since they often specializein particular fields. “Kirkland’s London officedoes a lot of private equity work, which isdefinitely what I want to do,” says Whittington.“I was able to really focus in on private equitywithout feeling any pressure to work in differ-ent practice groups.”In addition, there are numerous benefits toliving abroad. Many firms will provide sub-stantial cost of living adjustment stipends andexpense accounts for necessities, and evenpay the costs associated with moving a family.If you wind up spending a great deal of timeoverseas, you might find yourself at least par-tially exempt from American income tax andpaying a lower income tax in the host country.Christopher Rose, an associate at SquireSanders & Dempsey in London, adds, “A lotof firms pay a substantial living adjustment,[though] I don’t know of any firm that paysfor housing. Permanent residents like mepay U.K. taxes, which end up being about thesame as in the U.S. The true perk is the abilityto travel anywhere in Europe on a moment’snotice. The Amalfi Coast of Italy sure beats theJersey Shore.”Those who go abroad can also expect differ-ences, some obvious and some subtle, in theway day-to-day work is conducted in othercountries. For example, in many parts of Asiait is expected that attorneys will come in tothe office on Saturdays regardless of theirworkload; likewise, the overall number ofhours spent in the office may be higher thanin a typical U.S. office. In Europe, attorneysmight find that face time is still expected, andthat they can’t take the afternoon off evenwhen there’s nothing to do. In short, those go-ing abroad should familiarize themselves withthe cultural differences, even if the work itselfis going to be similar.“The culture at my firm is collegial and laidback,” says Rose. “I chose this firm over arather prestigious New York firm because Iunderstood the hours to be more tolerable.With certain exceptions, I work 9:30 a.m. to7:30 p.m. with occasional weekends.”Where You Can GoLawyers who are contemplating workingoverseas should also recognize that theyhave options beyond large New York firmswith extensive overseas networks. Firms inthe United Kingdom, particularly those inLondon’s prestigious Magic Circle, have alsobeen expanding into other countries. Thesefirms generally have many more overseasoffices than American firms do and often havespecialized U.S. law groups which hire Ameri-can lawyers to do international transactionalwork.“Allen & Overy has a real commitment togrowing its U.S. law practice,” commentsJeffrey Golden, a partner in the London officeand co-head of its U.S. Law Group. “In the pastyear alone, the number of U.S. lawyers joiningthe firm grew by 40 percent. The number ofU.S.-qualified attorneys at Allen & Overy iscurrently more than 150.”Increasingly, British law firms are marketingthemselves as the only truly global law firmsin the world. While there used to be unspo-ken rules that even U.S. offices of such firmswould only advise on U.K. law, they have nowmoved into the U.S. market and are increas-ingly becoming competitors for domestic busi-ness in addition to foreign transactions.“In the last few years especially, the depthof our U.S. law capabilities has increasedconsiderably. We are advising in an ever-increasing variety of areas, including equityand debt offerings, mergers and acquisitions,derivatives, project finance, securitization,banking, asset finance, insolvency and U.S.tax,” adds Thomas Jones, another partner inA&O’s U.S. Law Group. “The recent addition ofa number of high-profile partners has allowedus to reach out into new practice areas andhas solidified our standing in the internationallegal marketplace.”Prove Your CaseWhile firms often send associates to coun-tries where the deals they are working on arebased, other factors may come into play forpermanent postings. Experience in the desti-nation country or a plausible connection to itmight be a prerequisite.“Firms want to know that you are seriousabout being here and that you will at least staya couple of years, preferably longer,” saysRose. “Another factor is the type of experienceyou have. Some require capital markets ex-perience, since that is all some U.S. firms dohere. My general corporate experience provedto be an asset. It also helped during interviewswhen I demonstrated a connection to Europe;I have a brother who lives in Moscow that Irarely see. Moving to London made it pos-sible for me to see him-and my five-year-oldnephew-more often.”Language skills are useful, but as Watanabepoints out, “Neither language ability nor priorexperience in the destination country is re-quired. Those factors may certainly help make
  3. 3. 1.800.973.1177CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNERPAGE 3you feel more comfortable in social settings,but all of our work is conducted in English.”In the end, most firms are unable to fill theirlarger foreign offices’ demands for more U.S.trained attorneys. It was rumored that in theoffices of some prominent New York firms,associates would find themselves on planesthe minute the words “Hong Kong” crossedtheir lips. While such stories may be apoc-ryphal, the general trend seems to be thatfirms are more than happy to send people toforeign offices that handle a high number oftransactions. Unfortunately for young associ-ates, these offices generally aren’t the mostpopular tourist destinations.Look Before You LeapUntil a few years ago, being sent abroad usu-ally meant you were no longer on the partner-ship track. Returning to the U.S. after a periodabroad would generally put you at a disadvan-tage when new partners were being elected.But this may be changing. “Some feel workingoverseas actually improves your chances atpartnership,” says one associate, “since itshows the partners you’re a team player andwilling to travel for the greater good of thefirm. I’m not sure the statistics bear that out;however, it certainly can’t hurt, and partnersdo tend to encourage it, so there may be sometruth to that.”Still, he discourages new attorneys fromstarting out overseas: “As for starting ina foreign office, I wouldn’t recommend it,because it’s important to understand how afirm functions and to get a feel for the firm’sculture if you want to get the most out of yourtenure there. Only in the main office can youget that sense. Also, it’s the best opportunityto meet and work with most of the big guns atthe firm.”Rose concurs: “With respect to partnershipprospects, years ago, working at a branchoffice may have been a detriment unless youwere at a firm that encouraged foreign post-ings. Today, I think that is much less the case.Training is another story. Few if any U.S. firmsin London are prepared to train a new lawyer.Most firms would not start you out here andthe ones that do would probably not be lookingout for your best interests. Also, starting outat a far-flung office would position you forpracticing in that niche area-and leave youless flexibility upon your return. I’d recom-mend learning the nuts and bolts of trans-actional practice in the U.S. for a few yearsbefore moving across the pond.”