Laura graduated with a Master of Laws from the University of Melbourne in 2012
Laura Uberoi is an Associate Solicitor in the Banking Team at Farrer & Co. She is a Council Member at The Law Society elected to represent junior lawyers up to five years’ qualified and also sits as Honorary Secretary to the City of Westminster & Holborn Law Society.
How studying in Australia opens doors for you back home
In 2011 I packed my bags and set off for Melbourne to undertake a Masters in Law, focusing on international law. At the time, I wanted to go for all the usual reasons – a great post-graduate course with world-renowned professors, a new adventure and the weather. You can read all about these in an article I wrote at the time. What I did not realise in 2011 is how the opportunities I came across down under would impact the development of my career for so many years after I returned home.
In this article I set out the key areas to build on when you return home from your overseas studies and some top tips on how to make the most of your time abroad.
1. Job applications
As with many professions, there are many hurdles to becoming a solicitor – once you have passed (and paid for) a qualifying law degree, you must complete (and pay for/find a law firm who will pay for) a vocational training course and then secure a training contract with a law firm. Competition is enormous and this is highlighted by statistics from a few years ago where over 17,000 students were accepted on law degree courses in the UK and yet there were just under 5,500 training contracts available.
When you are running alongside thousands of academically excellent applicants who have a string of impressive extra-curricular achievements under their belts it is vital to have something that truly makes your application stand out. This is where overseas study serves as a great way to impress your future bosses. Before moving to Australia, I applied to numerous law firms and chambers with very little success. However, as soon as I returned I saw a dramatic change in the responses to my applications and one of the first questions I was always asked in interview was “…how interesting… please tell us more about your studies in Australia…”. Being able to move overseas, keep up your studies, create wider international experts (more on that later) and engage in activities that are not available in England are enormous CV boosters, so make sure that you build on as much of this as possible whilst you are away and do not be afraid to talk about it when you get home.
Top tip: try as many different activities as possible whilst you are abroad. This will make for excellent conversation topics in job applications and interviews when you return home and gives opportunities few others will have had.
2. Professional societies
Generally we spend so much time focusing on passing all of our exams and securing that sought after job that we dedicate little thinking time to what happens once you qualify and land the dream job. However, this is only the start of your career and is actually where all of the fun begins. I found that only once I qualified (and the worries of will I ever make it…!) could I begin shaping my career towards the things that really interested me. I chose to practise in the Banking Team at Farrer & Co because it was a fascinating and academic area with a diverse and exceptionally successful team. I flagged early that I was interested in the international sphere and it certainly helped when I found myself seconded for nearly a year to a large international bank.
Being in Australia also taught me not to become complacent and always look for interesting opportunities to participate in the profession outside of day to day practise. Missing my networks down under, I discovered an International Committee at my local law society (the City of Westminster & Holborn Law Society) which offers a multitude of opportunities for lawyers who want to mix with other international lawyers. After speaking about my experiences in Australia I was delighted to be accepted as Secretary of the International Committee and eventually worked my way to being appointed as Honorary Secretary of the whole society.
Alongside studying in Melbourne, I also taught undergraduate students at the university and this gave me a great insight into the issues facing junior lawyers there. I wanted to use examples of good practices I uncovered to improve the situation junior lawyers here and as a result I stood in the next round of elections to represent junior lawyers at The Law Society (the professional body representing solicitors in England and Wales). I was amazed that junior lawyers across the country elected me and many constituents regularly get in touch to more about my time in Australia as I included it in my election manifesto.
This is one of my greatest achievements to date as I participate in excellent work to support my fellow lawyers and draw on my experiences overseas to do this.
Top tip: do not settle once you have secured your desired job – use your overseas experience to participate in other professional bodies and societies.
3. International networks and friendships
I spent a lot of my time in Melbourne contacting brilliant lawyers who I held in high esteem and asked for their professional insights career guidance. In doing so, I made incredible friends and gained a few mentors who continue to play a large role in my career to date.
One of the best pieces of advice I was once given is that you should have at least three mentors at any stage of your career – one advocate in your own organisation, one external mentor who works in your profession and one external mentor who works in a different profession. Having such a group of advisers has been invaluable to me during the past five years that I have be practising, including an eminent judge who I met by chance in Australia and who always makes time for a coffee with me during his annual visit to London where we review my previous year’s career plan and set targets for my next year.
Top tip: before you move overseas do your research and get in touch with any people of interest. Use your time in Australia to meet as many people as possible and keep in touch with them – they are an excellent source of friendship, alternative viewpoints and mentoring.