Export your legal career with a quick hop across the ditch.

  • Published on July 7, 2020

With the potential for a trans-Tasman bubble on the horizon in the hopefully not too distant future, Australia presents itself as a credible and practical option for NZ Qualified Lawyers to fast track their career by gaining exposure to much larger, complex, international transactions/cases, all while offering closer proximity to family and friends, and safety in comparison to the traditional UK OE. 

To help you build insight into what working in Australia can look like we are fortunate to have first-hand experience from an NZ Qualified Lawyer who made the move from New Zealand to Australia. 

Frank Brown, Associate with Norton Rose Fulbright answers some of those key questions below:

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What attracted you to Australia rather than other countries? Proximity to New Zealand which allows me to visit (and be visited) by my family and friends. It was also a path which many of my colleagues from my previous firm had taken and recommended.

How are you finding working and living in Australia – examples of the good stuff? The climate. While I may not be able to speak for those who have moved or are planning to move to Melbourne, the climate in Sydney is quite similar to Auckland, but about 5 degrees warmer all times of the year and a bit less wind.

Also, being a bigger country, there is a greater range of everything, be it food or consumer items, or just lifestyles and fashion.

This is the best place to say what I miss about home though. Sal’s Pizza and the Paradise Indian restaurants in Mt Roskill (Oh, and my family and friends – of course).

How have you found the transition to living in a new country? There are some challenges with setting up in a new country regardless of how ‘close’ Australia is to New Zealand. I had some added challenges of relocating my partner and 4-year-old son so had other considerations such as proximity to good kindergartens and schools and accommodating my partner’s work and lifestyle needs and preferences.

The good thing about Sydney is that there are very few areas to avoid and all are well connected to the CBD. Young professionals without children usually opt for the eastern suburbs. Newtown for a more alternative vibe like K Road in Auckland or Cuba Street in Wellington. Balmain for the family-friendly organic/vegan lifestyle and Chatswood if you want more bustle and Asian cuisine. We opted for Neutral Bay which has a pretty even mix of young and retired and semi-retired, good schools and leafy and picturesque surroundings.

What type of work have you been engaged in recently? As a construction lawyer, the projects I have worked on in Australia are similar to those in New Zealand but on a far larger scale and layered with more legal and commercial issues. The clients I have worked with are also larger, and typically international organisations with projects worldwide.

What are the top 3 differences you have noticed about practicing Law in Australia and NZ? Obviously I can only speak to my experience in each country which may be unique to the organisations I worked in, but the largest differences I have noticed are as follows:

In New Zealand, juniors will work for a variety of Senior Associates who generally have the bulk of contact with the partner on the file. Fortunately for myself I was able to work directly with my supervising partner in New Zealand on a consistent basis, but often a junior will effectively be ‘hired’ by a number of Senior Associates so has more of an oblique background role in matters. 

In Australia, and in my practice team, the whole team has access to the partners they work with, irrespective of their level. It is a much flatter and more egalitarian way of working. Teams and the way they operate can vary, some are close-knit pods of people, yet in other teams, the resources are shared and collaborate more broadly. The firm is global and national and there is the opportunity to work with a wide range of colleagues.  

This creates a far more close-knit work environment and regular partner contact for juniors is less of a privilege some juniors secure, and more of an everyday reality.

Another difference I have noticed in Australia is seeing the partners “on the tools” working on matters alongside the juniors, whereas in New Zealand my experience was of partners having a more exclusively managerial role. This includes on the – I am pleased to say thus far irregular – occasions that weekend work and late nights have been required. The entire team, from partner down, all work on and finish the task together. This creates a true sense of a ‘team-effort’ reducing the possibility of hard work going unnoticed by higher management. 

What was the biggest challenge you faced from a work perspective? Obviously, the biggest initial challenge is adapting to the new jurisdiction. I studied New Zealand law and got my initial legal experience in the New Zealand jurisdiction. Often there are either no differences between the jurisdictions or they are minor, but nevertheless these differences need to be identified to the extent there are any. 

This has only deepened my understanding of my practice area and added to the quality of my professional experience. This is in a large way owing to the supportive work environment I entered, and the calibre of my mentors.

I have been fortunate to join a great team with a great supervising partner. My experience cannot be guaranteed to others in different firms. However, I think my experience proves wrong the mythology of New Zealand being a safety cushion and pursuing your legal career in Australia (or even further from home) is venturing into “the big bad world” This has not been my experience in the Construction team at Norton Rose in Sydney – and my move to Australia has been resoundingly positive.

If you are interested in learning more about opportunities in the Australian legal market, please contact Scott Stapleton on 09 973 5471 or sstapleton@tylerwren.co.nz