Young lawyers can capitalise on law firms' global outlook through overseas study

Academic training in different jurisdictions can up a lawyer's stock in the age of globalisation

Young lawyers can capitalise on law firms' global outlook through overseas study

This article was produced in partnership with Spark Finance.

Jacqueline So of Australasian Lawyer sat down with Spark Finance co-founder and CEO Ewen Hollingsworth to discuss how lawyers can up their stock through overseas study – and how law firms can benefit.

With international borders largely open once more after years of isolation, opportunities are once again materialising for global outreach across different industries. Many organisations have realised the value – and ease – of being able to tap the greater resources of a worldwide market. And certainly, among these industries is the legal profession.

“Increasingly, Australian law firms have a global outlook – just look at the global mergers of firms that have taken place in the top end of town”, Hollingsworth points out.

Overseas experience has traditionally been part of many a young lawyer’s journey, but for Hollingsworth, a former lawyer, more than just experience is needed to really boost one’s stock.

“Having a well-rounded lawyer with academic experience from another jurisdiction can be a huge benefit to a law firm,” he explains. “It is increasingly competitive to move up in a law firm. Having a masters from a highly reputable institution overseas is one way that you can differentiate yourself from your peers and show that you have the talent and drive to go far in law”.

In addition to generating more opportunities in private practice, Hollingsworth points out that obtaining overseas degrees can also help lawyers in transitioning to the Bar and going in-house. Moreover, they can aid in guiding lawyers into operational roles beyond the legal scope.

While Australia offers strong academic training in law, he highlights how the leading law schools in the world – institutions like Oxford, Stanford and Harvard – are typically located in the US and the UK. “Access to resources and talent”, he says, put these institutions “often a step above”.

“Studying in the US or UK can deliver skills that a lawyer may not be able to obtain here in Australia,” Hollingsworth explains.

He doesn’t view young lawyers going overseas to study as a “brain drain” situation; rather, he sees it as a “brain gain”.

“What we've seen is that the vast majority of Australians, more than 80%, return to Australia three years after they graduate”, Hollingsworth says. “Having lawyers that share [a global] outlook can be beneficial as these lawyers can share the knowledge and contacts from their time studying overseas to the benefit of the firm”.

The main barrier to overseas education for many lawyers, he notes, is financial capacity, given that choosing to study at a top university comes with considerable cost.

“That's not to say it's not worth it – the return on investment is definitely there – but it can be hard for many people to afford the up-front costs. Unfortunately, there's limited financial assistance for Australians looking to study overseas,” Hollingsworth says. “77% of people that do study overseas have to rely on family for finance, which means if you don't come from a wealthy background or you weren't lucky to get one of the very few scholarships on offer, you are priced out”.

Nonetheless, he has observed an uptick in lawyers looking to take their education across the sea compared to even before the pandemic hit.

“Australian lawyers are well-regarded across the globe both at work and in academia. The major barrier isn't the formal application to get into these top-tier global universities –Australians are well represented in all major universities”, Hollingsworth points out. “Really, the biggest hurdle has been affording this life-changing study”.

Ewen Hollingsworth is the Founder of Spark Finance, an Australian fintech that provides tuition assistance for ANZ students looking to study overseas. Prior to Spark he was a management consultant and lawyer. He has an MBA from Oxford University and was admitted as a solicitor of the NSW Supreme Court. He has extensive knowledge of both the financial services and higher education sectors through his time and consulting and law.

It was during his time at Oxford that he experienced firsthand the difficulty in financing overseas study for Australasian students..


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