Moving across countries or continents occasionally pose career defining questions and challenges such as the equivalence or transferability of qualifications or certifications. In today’s post, Lola Adekanye shares her experience of a transatlantic legal career and offers practical suggestions on nurturing a legal career across continents.
So, for some good reason you have to be uprooted from one jurisdiction to another in the course of your legal career journey, tossing your plans to go to law school and chart a path on the bench or at the bar up in the air. This is the picture of my career journey thus far; I started my career in England, then I relocated to Nigeria and subsequently to the U.S. While, some lawyers change their career paths completely from law to a different field or discipline. This choice has its own challenges as one would still need to qualify and be employable in the new location and when properly weighed, this was not a very attractive option for me.
In the course of obtaining two law degrees in England, professional law certificates both in Nigeria and New York and another law degree in the United States, I have come to the conclusion that a transatlantic legal career can be rich and fulfilling with proper planning.
The two major deterrents to transitioning lawyers or law students are qualifying in the new jurisdiction and employability given the lack of familiarity with the legal systems and structures in the new jurisdiction.
Qualifying – Legal studies and the process of qualifying to practice law in most jurisdictions is notorious for being grueling and very demanding and the entry requirements vary distinctly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so it is important to adequately prepare by conducting appropriate and extensive research.
In addition to research, obtaining first hand information about the jurisdiction is fundamental. Having the right information early on will put you on the right path and save time. The qualifying requirements to sit a Bar entry exam varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and are usually very specific. For instance some jurisdictions require that a law degree must include specific courses. Thus, current law students are in a good position to prepare to meet those requirements while they are in law school while practicing attorneys can manage their schedules to start making plans to meet the requirements. Practicing attorneys may also find that in some jurisdictions, experience counts as an alternative entry or admission requirement to exam.
A clear road map for qualifying puts things in perspective for lawyers who consider changing career paths due to the challenges of transitioning into a law career in a new jurisdiction. It turns out that changing to a new career path would require a considerable amount of studying which may take equal amount of time or perhaps more time than it would take a transitioning lawyer to sit the qualifying Bar exams.
Employability – My legal counsel during my undergraduate studies enlightened me to the comforting fact that a law degree equips you to function in a variety of capacities order than litigation. This would require that you obtain at least basic substantive knowledge in another field or additional soft skills in addition to core legal skills such as drafting and research. This is even more true as clients directly or indirectly demand an integrated service of their attorneys and law firms.
The ability to apply business skills or orientation, operational knowledge, language skills and science knowledge to legal representation is an advantage to landing a job or finding a role within other non-conventional legal positions.
On that note, if you are a current student or aspiring lawyer, it might also be worth considering a combined degree as it can be of great benefit. For anyone studying outside the U.S, taking a minor in another course of interest during their undergraduate year while you major in law would be the way to achieve this. While for students studying in the U.S, going for first degree in any course in order to qualify for admission to law school to earn a Juris Doctor which is a law degree equivalent to a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) in other jurisdictions is advisable.
Finally, keep an open mind to a host of alternative practice areas to litigation.
Lola Adekanye obtained her Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Securities and Financial Regulation from Georgetown University. She operates as a Legal Counsel as well as a Business Risk and Compliance Consultant. Lola enjoys writing as well as sharing her experience in developing a legal career as well as business strategy and international education.
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