Overseas Lawyers immigrating to Australia

Are you an overseas lawyer contemplating a move to Australia?

Our experienced team is well connected and expertly placed to help you relocate your career to Australia.

Although the market has constricted in recent years due to changes in Australian Visa regulations, there is still a consistent appetite for high calibre foreign lawyers with experience at major international firms, particularly from the UK magic and silver circle firms as well as the large Canadian and US firms. There is also extremely strong interest in Australian lawyers returning home from overseas as well as New Zealand Citizens, who are admitted lawyers, and automatically have full work rights in Australia and are eligible for immediate admission under the Australian/NZ mutual recognition legislation.

Australian Legal Landscape

There are a relatively small number of law firms – perhaps nine or ten -which dominate the legal market in Australia. These firms are effectively the equivalent of the UK’ magic circle and silver circle, and include some of the international UK firms, that have recently merged with existing local players (Norton Rose Fulbright, Ashurst, Herbert Smith Freehills, Allens-Linklaters, DLA Piper). Most have offices in each of the Australian capital cities, excluding Hobart, Darwin and Adelaide. Unlike the London-centric UK market, quality corporate work is available outside Melbourne and Sydney, particularly in the Perth and Brisbane markets.

Outside of these strong local players, there are a smaller number of international firms that have bases in either Sydney or Melbourne. It is only these larger Australian and foreign firms and a select number of mid-tier firms that will hire foreign lawyers and can potentially provide the necessary visa sponsorship.

When considering foreign applicants, lawyers historically needed to have one years’ post qualification/admission experience at a highly regarded local or international firm to be eligible for consideration. This has recently moved to at least two years plus, due to new visa considerations. However, we are seeing employers in high demand areas being more flexible and firms are sometimes even prepared to consider newly qualified candidates, depending upon level of training and demand for their area of experience. Irish and UK lawyers with their two to three-year training contract programs are a good example of this.

Do I need a Visa?

Yes, you need a Visa with work rights, Permanent Residency, or Citizenship to work in Australia.

There are various visa options available for overseas applicants, depending on your circumstances. If you are seeking employer sponsorship, the
Temporary Work (Skilled) visa (subclass 457) has now been replaced with the Temporary Skill Shortage visa (subclass 482) (https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/visas/getting-a-visa/visa-listing/temporary-skill-shortage-482) – we are happy to discuss our understanding around eligibility for this visa and the current appetite from the firms/employers to offer it.

There have been recent changes to eligibility requirements and we are finding interpretations of eligibility are differing between firms/employers which is affecting appetite.

Typically, as a rule of thumb, you need at least 2 years’ experience in law to qualify, although there are differences in opinion at present as to whether this needs to be pre- or post- admission experience and we see more appetite for sponsorship at two years plus post admission, right up to the plus 10 year experience level.

If you are a partner of an Australian or New Zealand Citizen, or in some cases a partner of a foreign national who has been granted a work Visa, you have other options available to you as well by way of the various partnership visas.

Link to Department of Immigration

We are always happy to discuss the market but can’t give you immigration advice. Start here to explore your options: https://immi.homeaffairs.gov.au/ and then seek further advice through a lawyer or registered Migration Agent as to your exact rights and entitlements.

Am I qualified to work in Australia?

Firms will generally encourage re-qualification and will usually provide financial support and study leave. However, it is not strictly necessary and you should be able to work as a foreign qualified lawyer in any of the Australian law firms under supervision of an Australian practitioner. Having said this, firms generally do like you to take steps to admission once in Australia or even pre-application, as it demonstrates to them a long-term commitment to a legal career in Australia. It will also assist you if you have a desire to move in-house long term, where it is virtually a pre-requisite for more senior roles.

In addition, to qualify for extension of a 482 visa, our understanding is that you will need to re-qualify in Australia before expiry of the initial visa term.

Litigators looking to practice in Australia will also usually need to be admitted in Australia in order to have leave to appear in Court.

With regard to lawyers from the UK – The Australian-UK Free Trade Agreement came into effect on 31 May 2023, and whilst it was hoped that it would provide greater recognition of prior qualifications (reducing the requirements to re-qualify when moving from the UK) this has not yet occurred. It has established a Legal Services Regulatory Dialogue that, amongst other things, will consider enhancing the professional mobility of lawyers between Australia and the UK, but has not introduced mutual recognition arrangements that will immediately allow UK lawyers to be admitted as lawyers in Australia (or vice versa) without their having to undergoing the usual application for admission processes applicable in each Australian jurisdiction.

Melbourne and Sydney

Melbourne and Sydney are popular destinations for overseas and interstate lawyers with all major international and most independent law firms having offices here.
The presence of multinational organisations ensures that high-quality work is briefed to firms and offers excellent opportunities for lawyers looking to move both in-house and into private practice.

Sydney and Melbourne firms are interested in overseas and interstate lawyers who bring quality experience from major firms and offer strong academic backgrounds.

Sydney tends to have more financial services roles; however quality work is available in both cities.

Salaries in Sydney are typically slightly higher, reflecting a higher cost of living.

See our Survey for further information about current market salaries.

Perth and Brisbane

Boasting the lion’ share of Australia’ booming resources industry, experienced corporate, commercial and resources lawyers are in high demand in both Perth and Brisbane.

Lawyers here have access to high quality work and training and can be offered greater responsibility at an earlier level, with strong prospects of progressing to senior associate and partnership level.

Perth and Brisbane firms are always interested in lawyers with strong experience gained overseas or interstate, particularly lawyers with energy and resources experience.

Salaries in Perth are typically slightly higher than the rest of the country, reflecting a high cost of living and its relative isolation from the rest of Australia.
Brisbane salaries tend to be more comparable to Sydney and Melbourne.

See our Survey for further information about current market salaries.