Legal Business Blogs

London calling? Recruiters eye New Zealand talent market as borders reopen

As prime minister Jacinda Ardern declared New Zealand’s borders fully open last Sunday (31 July) for the first time since March 2020, commentators have reckoned on a whole new talent pool.

Overseas experience (OE) had long been a rite of passage for many qualified New Zealand lawyers, with nearest neighbour Australia being the obvious choice for such experience. Indeed, Allens was among the firms known to actively recruit talent from the New Zealand market.

However, the UK has now become one of the top destinations for those lawyers who have been forced to delay their OEs throughout the pandemic, promising the London market access to much-sought after talent.

Danielle Daquino, senior manager at legal recruitment agency SSQ, told Legal Business: ‘The quality of work, exhilarating lifestyle and easy access to Europe’ attracts qualified New Zealand lawyers to the UK, as well as ‘top of the market salaries’. In the City, where the likes of Allen & Overy and Linklaters have taken a step back from the salary race, Herbert Smith Freehills increased NQ salaries by 14% to put it in the same ball park as the Magic Circle firms. Daquino said: ‘We have seen more associates looking to move at the more junior level, even below the 3-5-year PQE mark. The market has opened up and if someone is 1-year PQE, there may be NQ opportunities in City firms.’

According to Stats NZ, more residents have been leaving the country than entering it since restrictions started to be lifted, a trend that is expected to continue.

Tom Bennett, partner in Buddle Findlay’s Auckland office, told Legal Business: ‘New Zealand has had a pent-up recruitment market following border closures and lockdowns. Now the borders have opened again, we are seeing large numbers of our young people heading overseas to work. We have always dealt with our young lawyers leaving to work overseas, but the frozen market over the last couple of years means we now have a disproportionate number leaving, creating gaps in our firm that are proving very difficult to fill.’

David von Dadelszen, formerly a lawyer at specialist IP firm AJ Park and now director of Jameson Legal, made the switch himself: ‘The UK is culturally very different and attractive to New Zealanders who have grown up far away in a less culturally diverse part of the world.

‘There has always been a high demand for commonwealth-qualified lawyers from both New Zealand and Australia from international law firms but there has been a sense of uncertainty around leaving, not only because you couldn’t physically leave, but because there has been no certainty on whether you can easily go back’.

Daquino noted: ‘In the last 18 months, the sheer number of qualified lawyers from New Zealand and Australia was unprecedented. Now there is likely to be more, as people have their visas, they can travel to the UK and land a role on the ground. This is where there has been a gap in the market for the last couple of years and this will be good for firms looking for six–12-month contracts.’

The path is well-trodden to Magic Circle firms, and whilst traditionally, US law firms looked to recruit from Australia over New Zealand, the last year saw the chasing pack firms increase their intake of Kiwis. Whether there will be a ‘great resignation’ is yet to be seen, New Zealand firms will have to become a lot more creative about attracting and retaining talent.