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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

May 1, 2016
Question

I’m an international based lawyer with 15 years of experience including a few years as GC at tech companies in Europe and APAC. How can I break into the U.S. in house market for my next job?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

For a lawyer seeking a new job, the status of “non local candidate” presents a set of marketability challenges that can hinder a candidacy, whether the lawyer resides in the U.S…or not. And at times, living 200 miles away can be just as problematic as 2000 miles. Why? Because employers prefer to hire candidates who live “in the area”-as there’s less risk of attrition and decreased morale. In addition, relocation costs can play a role in the decision too. This leads employers to focus on the local candidate pool first before widening the net to include other geographic regions. So, as a non-U.S. lawyer based in Australia, making your way to the Stars and Stripes will require a carefully crafted strategy, some elbow grease…and a lot of patience. So, where to start?

First, identify U.S. cities you’d like to focus on during your search. Given your background in the technology industry, I recommend that you focus on tech-oriented cities like the San Francisco Bay Area (this includes Silicon Valley and San Francisco), Seattle, Austin, Los Angeles, Denver, Boston and New York. Once you’ve selected your U.S. city preferences, it’s time to review your career options to facilitate a move:

Apply directly for jobs located in the U.S.

This is the obvious and most logical approach. But it’s also the most difficult in terms of success because of employers’ strong preference to hire local candidates. To increase your opportunities, I recommend the following: (1) reach out to top recruiters in your desired cities and get on their radar; (2) tap your existing network for introductions at U.S. companies seeking to hire lawyers; (3) build your network with new connections in the U.S. markets you’re considering; (4) join local in house organizations and get involved, even if remotely; (5) be flexible on the roles and titles you apply for (i.e. GC of subsidiary, non-GC positions at public and private companies); and (6) schedule trips to the U.S. and book interviews/meetings to capitalize on your in-person presence.

Join the international office of a U.S. company or subsidiary.

Many of today’s U.S. corporations are global with offices and lawyers residing in several countries. Joining the international office of a U.S. company or subsidiary is an interim step towards your goal of breaking into the U.S market. It tethers you to a U.S. based company and serves as a springboard for a department transfer. So after proving yourself, you can attempt your move by requesting to transfer to the U.S. headquarters. Research the U.S. companies with planted flags in your hometown and other regions you’ve worked and go from there.

Join a non-U.S. company with offices in the U.S.

Joining a foreign-based company with offices in the U.S. will provide you with a similar route of transfer into a U.S. office after proving yourself. With this said, U.S. offices of foreign companies tend to be smaller in size with few, if no lawyers (there are a few exceptions). So this path won’t be as robust.

Quit your job and move to the U.S.

It’s not as crazy as it may sound. The U.S. in house legal market is active-and being unemployed while looking for a job is not the career death sentence it once was. You’ll have about 12-18 months to sit on the sidelines before eyebrows are raised, which is ample time to find work in this legal market…if you are proactive. So if you can swing it financially, relocating would take the biggest objection to your candidacy…off the table. And might be a risk worth taking.

For an internationally based lawyer seeking to relocate to America, the brand of “non local candidate” will serve as a heavy weight bearing down on his/her candidacy. It’s a designation that is not easy to shake and will require a calculated and concerted effort to do so. But do so, you can. It will take time, but factors in today’s in house legal market and the professional as a whole make this move a realistic…and worthy endeavor.

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Comments

Ganapati Hegde, Not employed, Not employed

It is not easy for an international lawyer to get an inhouse legal counsel job. You need to be licensed in of the states in US as an Attorney. Visa sponsorship is another challenge.

Tereza Oliveira, ,

Great post. Being an international lawyer myself and having been employed as in-house counsel in the US for the past 6 years, another lengthy alternative is to pursue an LLM in your are of interest in a good school, apply to a state bar (the NY bar is a good choice, it is well suited for international lawyers and well-regarded) so you would be licensed in the US, and then being on the market for an in-house position. If you can find a job without all this (it is expensive and takes time), go for it. I just wanted to offer another alternative that I have seen working for many people, myself included. Good luck!

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