Applying for legal jobs in the UK: What you need to know

06 June 2023 Alessyn Hecht


If you are qualified as a lawyer and want to expand your horizons as well as your career, the United Kingdom can be an attractive option. London and other cities have a thriving legal market and a strong demand for qualified, experienced professionals. 

Before you start applying for legal jobs in the UK, there are a few key things you should know. These are the questions to ask and research the answers to:

Your experience 

Australia inherited its common law system from the UK so the transition to practice should be reasonably smooth. 

In Australia, new lawyers tend to do a one year graduation rotation which is counted toward their admittance experience, while in the UK, the system requires a two year training contract before you’re seen as fully qualified. 

Because of this, when you transition to work in the UK from Australia, you will have two years of Post Qualified Experience (PQE) ‘deducted’. So if you have five years of experience in Australia, it will only be seen as three in the UK. 

The quality of work will be comparable (or even better) but it’s important to keep your UK PQE level in mind when looking at job adverts and salary bandings.

In terms of career timelines, if you can build three years of local experience in Australia before you head to the UK, you will avoid competing for roles with newly qualified lawyers. 

Do you have a work visa? 

If you are not a citizen, you may need to obtain a visa before you travel to the UK.. 

We have shared some information about what’s involved and how to apply in our recent article but in short, a visa will allow you to live and work in the UK for between two and five years.

How long do you plan to stay?

If you’d like to spend a year or two in the UK then move on, you can put your hand up for any role. However, if your focus is on growing your career and staying longer, you may want to look for firms that offer support with career planning and growth. 

Who is hiring? 

Before you start applying for jobs in the UK, it's important to do your research and get a sense of the job market. 

Recent reports explained that London-based law firms are struggling to fill roles because of people leaving the profession. Concurrently, demand for legal services is rising, but there are some firms and areas of the law which need help more than others. 

Your specialisation and level of experience will impact the level of interest you may receive in the UK market.  For example, a professional specialising in Corporate, Commercial, or Financial Services will generally have an easier time gaining employment over someone specialising in a niche or Australian specific area such as Native Title or CTP Insurance.  

Those with experience in international or top tier national Australian firms will find a wider array of potential employment opportunities in London.  If your experience comes from local firms or within civil law, you will need to target smaller or regional firms in the UK which have fewer job opportunities and for some, less desirable locations and salary levels.

When you have done your research, arranged your visa, and have a relocation timeline set, you’re ready to put your hand up for roles.  

It makes sense to start working with a recruiter early on. Reach out to an agency that specialises in recruiting expat legal professionals and let them know what you are looking for. They can help educate you on the market and job locations, put you in touch with potential employers, and guide you toward the best career opportunities.

You can also set up LinkedIn and other job board notifications so you can see which types of firms are putting the call out for staff. You can start following people from these firms online so you have a connection with them before you apply. 

What will your living expenses be? 

Before you decide to move to the UK to work as a lawyer, it's important to consider the cost of living. While salaries in the legal industry can be quite competitive, the cost of living in major cities like London can be high. 

Research your potential salary with your recruitment consultant, salary guides, and job boards, and look at rent websites to get an idea of property costs.  Compare your expected income with the rent you expect to pay to determine where you might live and how much it will cost to get to and from work.  Plan a ‘buffer’ of savings for an initial period of unemployment.  Don’t forget to allow for savings so you can afford to travel.  

Where will you live? 

Of course, the area you live in will depends on where your job is. However, you need to be able to afford to live relatively close to work, so ensure your salary means you can afford to rent something acceptable. 

Your recruitment consultant may be able to recommend some accommodation options before you arrive. 

Before you apply to work in the UK legal industry, take the time to research the legal system, the job market, and logistical considerations. By being prepared and doing your homework, you can make a smoother transition to your new role. Additionally, it's important to stay open-minded and adaptable, and to be willing to learn as you embrace the opportunities that come with working in a new country.

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