London: Should I stay or should I go?

22 August 2017 Laura Barratt

London Calling

I’ve always enjoyed writing articles about London and the experience that many Australians have when moving there, particularly those working in legal.  The writing allows me to reflect on my own travels, who I’ve met along the way, how the experience changed my life and opened up other options for my future.  I had arrived at my own “should I stay or should I go” crossroads and I decided to lay my fate on the line one afternoon not by a coin toss, but by a game of pool!  The deal was if the ball was sunk, I was off to London before Christmas.  True to my word I booked my flight for 14 December of that year, right before Christmas much to my mother’s displeasure.  Oops sorry Mum!

The world has changed dramatically since I left Sydney for a two year working holiday.  I think many will agree that it was a lot bigger back then!!  Smartphones hadn’t been invented and so my first communication home wasn’t via a Facebook status or Messenger immediately upon arrival, it was in a traditional red phone box!  I even know exactly which one in Trafalgar Square!!

I had just a couple of years’ experience working as a Legal Secretary at Gilbert + Tobin as part of the M&A team.  Living and working in London had been a very popular move for Australians in legal.  Nearly all of the lawyers I worked for had either worked there, were from there or due to move there themselves and the senior secretary I worked alongside was also English.  Thanks to all of them, I had a pretty good heads up of what to expect from life in the London legal community.

When I moved to London the market was busy.  I wouldn’t say that jobs were easy to get as no matter what level of activity the London market produces, you’ve always got to be at the top of your game for interviews in this city, therefore ease rarely comes in to it.  But there certainly wasn’t a lack of opportunities.  Australians were moving to London in droves just as they had for decades gone by.  The city was a hive of activity, as were the bustling Aussie/Kiwi bars like the Walkabout and the Redback.  All of that changed drastically with the global market crash in 2008.  At the end of that year and during the years that followed, the London legal market experienced mass redundancies across almost all practice areas, forcing many Australians to return home with tales of a city lacking in opportunities.

Whilst that was very true at the time, the absolute opposite is true now.  London is once again a very busy city and this of course has a knock on effect with recruitment.  Over the last two years we have seen increases in the number of legal secretarial roles available and in fact, through consultation with our agencies on the ground in London they report that vacancy rates are now the highest they have ever been since 2008!  If you have been considering a working holiday in London, this is the year to do it!

Australian legal support staff are highly sought after by UK and US law firms operating out of London. The skill level and work ethic that is instilled in us here in Australia is invaluable to these firms.  Australians are often working in order to fund various European holidays and other adventures, and so they are always eager to put their hand up for overtime.  I know I did!  My first job in London was with Baker & McKenzie where I was employed on a six month contract.  The contract and ability to earn overtime gave me financial security in order to plan extended travels around Europe for three months. I was already earning a good salary, but when you start earning the Pound at time and a half and double time you really can afford the adventure of a lifetime.  Looking back now I am so glad that I did it!!  It’s been the only time in my life where I have taken such an extended amount of time off to travel.

Now this all sounds pretty linear right? Arrive in London, get a job, work hard, kick back for three months.  For the most part it was like that, and it can be for you too.  But did I always know what I was doing? Absolutely not!  I will admit right now that when I got my contract at Bakers in the Employment department, I didn’t even know that Employment was a litigious practice area!!  I think about three months in one of my lawyers said she was off to court and in my head I was like “ah ok….so this is litigation??!”  My point is, I was never going to find that out continuing to work in Corporate in Sydney was I?

It’s the small things that occur during your time away from home that end up changing you as a person, providing you with a level of responsibility you may not have had the opportunity to deal with at home.  When you’re away, you’re always thinking about the next thing and what you need to do to achieve it, especially if you are on a Tier 5 Youth Mobility Visa (previously known as the working holiday visa).  As it is valid for two years you know you’ve got a set amount of time to accomplish everything you want to before coming home.  Without even realising it you are developing your skills – your time management is increasing, your organizational skills are becoming more enhanced, you’re travelling in groups therefore your project management skills are getting a work out and more and more doors are opening for you in the job market when you return home to Australia.  As a recruiter, I’ve been briefed on many senior legal secretary and EA roles where the client has specifically requested CVs of candidates who have lived and worked in London.

So, is it toss of the coin time for you? Do you stay or do you go? Heads you go, tails you stay.

Toss the coin!


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