Back to blog

LCN Blogs

The pros and cons of working at an international law firm

The pros and cons of working at an international law firm

The Rookie Lawyer


Coming from an international background, I've always thought an international law firm would be the perfect fit − mimicking the culturally diverse contexts in which I grew up. However, when answering the question "Why would you like to work at an international firm?" on an application form, I found it hard to articulate my exact reasons without sounding too generic. After all, I certainly wasn't the only applicant with an international background. Subsequently, I did some research to fine-tune my ideas. Therefore, in this article I'll be listing some of the pros and cons of working at a global law firm, in order to identify precisely why I’m attracted to this type of firm.

First of all – what’s an international law firm?

The word 'international' in the context of law firms can sometimes be a bit confusing. It tells you that a firm has offices in more than one country, and, therefore, likely has clients around the globe. As an applicant, it'd be fair to assume that there would be some traveling involved in your role − or perhaps even an international secondment, if you're lucky. But this ambiguity fails to really identify the scope of a law firm's internationality.

The main point to note is that an international law firm differs from a local or national one in the nature of its work. As it has clients and bases around the world, its work is multijurisdictional. You have to crank your commercial awareness up to 500 − maintaining an awareness of, not only national commercial and legal trends, but also international markets, geopolitical issues and the outcome these may have on your chosen firm's clients both locally and abroad. Different offices of the same firm may have different specialties or strengths. For instance, a firm's London office might be stronger in its real estate department, while its Dubai office might be stronger in private equity. The reputation of the firm may transcend borders but there's bound to be individual differences and quirks that distinguish the international offices from one another − and this is something you can consider asking about at an open day to refine your justification for applying to your chosen location.

Of course, it's likely that a firm with multiple offices dotted around the globe will also be diverse at the smaller scale, too: an awareness of different cultures and a sense of empathy and tolerance is imperative when working in such an environment (though, of course, this goes for any working environment − not just international law firms).

Advantages of working at an international law firm:

  • Exposure to different markets. Working at an international firm demands a constant awareness of the world around you, both personally and economically, in order to understand how best to service your global clients. This kind of work can also open up further investment opportunities, partnerships and collaborations, as well as provide you with insight into different business models and business cultures around the globe (from which you can learn and improve). It can also serve as a demonstration of the international consequences of your actions − something you must bear in mind as you complete this type of work.
  • Having a broader network of colleagues and clients. At some firms, you may collaborate with a different office's team to complete a deal or transaction – either because of a tight deadline or because of the cross-border nature of the work. This can provide you with insight into how the law operates on a broader, international scale − as well as how you can facilitate it.
  • Getting ahead of global changes. This will allow both you and your firm to refine your services to suit a wide, global client base in line with current trends and changes occurring at the global level.
  • Being part of an international environment. Working closely with other teams across the world also fosters an international culture within the firm and can sometimes result in the synthesis of different office's cultures. This sets international firms apart, in being dynamic and progressive.
  • Bigger, broader work. Because the nature of the work you do and the clients you aid at an international firm has a global ripple effect, and broader range. Lawyers at an international firm will likely be involved in more high-profile transactions and deals, with a broader range of clients, and with more consequences.

Disadvantages of working at an international law firm:

  • It's always just past a deadline somewhere in the world. One of the disadvantages of any kind of work with an international scope is the higher working hours, greater demand and pressure, and the lower likelihood of good work/life balance. This is, of course, a generalisation, and depends entirely on the specific firm you apply to and the department you end up working in, but it's a fair warning to consider before delving into this career path.
  • Change is always on the horizon. Whether it's a move or travel for a conference abroad, or a sudden deal that gets dropped in your lap two days before it's due, an international firm is likely not for you if you're a stickler for routine or if you dislike travelling.

I'm definitely biased, but, to me, the pros of working at an international firm largely outweigh the cons. The chance to engage in exciting, dynamic work with international colleagues and clients (and consequences!) is something that I'd love to do. Though it might not be for everyone, international work can change the world as we see it. It allows you the opportunity to directly participate in cases and deals that make headlines, with effects that ripple across the national legal landscape and beyond.