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October 10, 2008

Where Are All the Lawyers Going? Overseas?

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post titled Millions of Americans Are Thinking of Leaving the U.S. and Millions of Americans are Thinking of Leaving the U.S. (Part II).  Even if you've read these posts before, they are both worth a few minutes to reread as they could have been written today.

While both are more generic in nature it was an ominously on point forecast of what we are experiencing today and the legal profession is not immune.  This is illustrated quite well by this timely New York Law Journal piece reprinted in most part as follows:

With many firms nationwide cutting back on offers, trimming ranks or collapsing outright due to the ongoing economic malaise, many Am Law 200 lawyers are in a panic.

"I have never seen more resumes across the board," says Dan Binstock, managing director of BCG Attorney Search's Washington, D.C., office. "I've had far more requests for partner-level searches and partners [themselves] are much more open to talking, even if that's as far as it goes."

Associates are on the move as well. Given the state of the markets, Binstock says stealth layoffs are occurring more often. "Firms feel more justified [in doing so] than they did in the past," he says.

While much of the news is bad, there still are opportunities for those inclined to rework a resume and expand a job search beyond U.S. borders.


The downturn has hit the world financial centers in New York and London the hardest. And with emerging markets like Dubai and Singapore quickly gaining ground as leading financial centers, many out-of- work lawyers are setting their sights on the Middle East and Asia.

"I've been just as busy this year as last, but now there are four times as many candidates looking to go overseas from the U.S.," says Evan Jowers, managing director of the Hong Kong and New York offices of Kinney Recruiting. "A big part of it is the market slowdown in the U.S., London and other Western places, but another reason is that many firms with offices abroad were already looking to expand."


Just being an associate at a major New York firm won't cut it. "[Hiring partners in Asia] are looking for the best of the best on paper: top 10 law school, top grades and all the languages that they used to not care so much about, now they care," says Jowers.


Also, rather than recruit new talent, many large firms and multinational corporations are relocating current employees, says Mark Anderson, managing consultant of the Dubai office of U.K. legal recruiter Laurence Simons International.

"If you've got people in other jurisdictions who are serving an area like the Middle East, from Europe or America, there might be a time when you eventually need someone on the ground here," Anderson says. "[W]hy not move someone internally rather than go on a recruiting spree, especially in tough times like these?"


That's not to say global opportunities have dried up. Gibson, Dunn's Pathak sees a constant stream of resumes cross his desk from jobseekers in both the U.S. and Europe.

"I've noticed that a number of banks have moved some relatively senior people who would normally be based in the U.S. or London to places like Hong Kong and Singapore within the past year," Pathak says. "In part, I think that's because the two big economies in India and China are gaining in importance, not just because of the current crisis."


The Middle East also is a draw for Western legal talent.

"There's a pull and a push factor working here as well," says Laurence Simons' Anderson. "To give you a recent example, we just worked with a large private equity firm in Dubai that took two private equity specialists from Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York for both legal and non-legal roles."

Dubai has been a popular destination for Am Law 200 firms over the last few years. Even firms not tied to traditional oil and gas practices, like Gibson, Dunn, Latham & Watkins and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, have set up shop there. Now the need for Western legal expertise is expanding to other emirates like Abu Dhabi. (Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld announced the opening of an Abu Dhabi office on Wednesday.)

"Dubai's been running on all cylinders for three years, and places like Doha in Qatar have still got two to three years to go before they have a main financial hub that's up to speed," Anderson says. "Abu Dhabi is doing its own thing with government-based wealth � it isn't trying to attract international banks, commerce, industry, or multinationals. Instead it's seeking legal services for the sovereign wealth funds there that need advice on what to do with the money they already have."

As Anderson sees it, many of the large Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds are waiting until the dust settles after the market bottoms out before they sweep in to Western markets picking up banks, financial services, real estate, and retail holdings.

And Anderson isn't worried about the price of oil dropping from $150 to $100 a barrel. The sheikhs figure they need to keep plenty of lawyers employed to make the most they can from it.

"These guys have deep enough pockets and they've got lawyers on the ground in Abu Dhabi doing [energy] diversifying work so they can develop nuclear power over here," he says. "Sure, they've got oil, but if it's only for the next 200 years, they don't want to use it all themselves but sell it to us!"

Should we all be taking Berlitz classes in Arabic, Chinese and Hindi?

Anyway, if leaving the United States is not an option there remain many here.  How will you capitalize on this movement of bodies both in and out of the U.S?  What types of legal services can you provide to this segment of our society that will by necessity utilize technology to the maximum?  The answer, in part, to your economic security lies in predicting those needs which will arise and fashioning a business plan to meet those needs.

A well-respected friend told me that more than 250 years ago this country was comprised of 90% entrepreneurs and those, by necessity, were mostly home-based businesses.  When we start our reconstruction from this horrific deconstruction will we be a society comprised primarily of home-based entrepreneurs, again?  Just typing out loud.  Seems appropriate as we start the 'Columbus' Day weekend...(re)discovery of America?

On a different note, I leave you to contemplate Christopher S. Penn's thought-provoking post 'Enduring Darkness'

(And, please, stop calling me the grim reaper.  I just don't like to have my head in the sand...and I don't want to see my readers do that either.)

H/T to Edward Wiest for the NYLJ article.  - free subscription required to read full article.


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