Wednesday 27 April 2011

How to get a job in the UK / US if you have an Italian law degree

The Royal Courts of Justice, London (c) Robert Dennis

Question: As a student of law, I would like to know what can I do with my Italian legal degree in the UK or USA. What are the different opportunities? 

Answer: Thanks for your question.Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you.
The good news is that your law degree will help you find a job in an English-speaking country, mainly because it’s a degree and employers prefer graduates. The bad news is that it will be very difficult (if not impossible, unless you retrain / convert your qualification) to practice as a lawyer in Britain or the US because the Anglo-Saxon countries use the common law system, not one based on Roman law (widely used throughout the EU).

One option might be to get a job in some capacity (e.g. as an administrator) with a UK / US law firm and then retrain once you have established yourself in your “new” country. (Although, considering the length of time Italian people tend to study for, you may decide that you have seen enough of libraries and would rather put your knowledge and skills into practice, rather than keep studying.)

You could find a job with a British / American or Italian company based abroad that does business with people in Italy and where a knowledge of Italian law is relevant, but it is not necessary to be trained as an English / American lawyer. For example, an international estate agent’s that handles the rent or sale of property in Italy to UK or US nationals. Other sectors could include import / export, tourism, insurance, healthcare or the art market, etc – areas where a knowledge of Italian law would be useful (or essential). (Other options might include areas involving Intellectual Property, Company Law and Finance, where you could advise foreign clients on the implications of setting up businesses, selling and investing in Italy.)

As part of your degree you will no doubt have studied EU and / or international law. Obviously, this will be relevant throughout the European Union and in industries such as travel, shipping and international trade. Don’t overlook working for the EU itself or for a non-governmental organisation that has some connection with Italy or the EU. Another option might be to find a job with the Italian government, or an Italian firm, which requires you to work abroad. (Given the current state of the economy, and the relative lack of job security in the Anglo-Saxon countries, it might be a good strategy to have an “indeterminate contract” from Italy, but work in a country that has a “hire and fire” (assumere e licenziare) culture.

Perhaps the most important factor is your ability to speak and use English. Even a fully-qualified Italian lawyer will find life very difficult outside of Italy if they don’t speak English. Firms increasingly require a qualification in English, although most will still make their final judgement based on your ability to communicate in the job interview. The ILEC exam is becoming increasingly popular as a way of demonstrating your knowledge of English in a legal context, although of course, these professional English exams are really ways of enhancing or adding value to your degree, experience and general ability (things which any employer will be most interested to ask you about.)

Although you say that you are a student of law, once you qualify as a lawyer in Italy you could be eligibile to convert your qualification in order to become a solicitor in the UK. (A solicitor is a lawyer who handles legal work and prepares cases, but doesn’t represent clients in the higher courts. These lawyers are known as barristers (“avvocati”, approximately.) The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test (QLTT) is the conversion test that enables certain lawyers to qualify as solicitors in England and Wales. Note that Scotland (and Northern Ireland) have separate legal systems.

Some of the larger, international law firms welcome non-UK lawyers. Have a look, for example, at the International Applicants section on the website of Freshfields, a global law firm whose headquarters is in London.

This article first appeared on the Milan Business English Network. If you are a lawyer or legal professional who needs to use English in your work you may be interested in joining the MBEN Legal Professionals subgroup on LinkedIn.

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