Offshore Law: preparing for the call of the Channel Islands

The opportunities for lawyers to practice offshore are greater than ever. One of the unique attractions for UK barristers relocating to Jersey or its smaller neighbour, Guernsey, is their close proximity to the mainland.

The further benefits are clear: the warmer climate, a higher quality of legal work, higher net income, a better work/life balance - and little if any commuting.

The professional opportunities, particularly if you have solid training and experience in commercial law, are in banking and finance, commercial and trusts, dispute resolution, funds, insolvency, trusts and private client. Cross-border transactional work and litigation are particularly busy areas of practice. Jersey and Guernsey are, after all, world class financial centres where top lawyers from the UK are in demand. The Channel Islands have their own securities exchange (based in Guernsey but servicing both islands), and the off shore legal market has been steadily growing.

But is now the right time for you? Do you have enough experience to offer employers? Could you confidently take on more responsibility and (most likely) be more autonomous, in a typically faster paced environment? If you’re seriously considering relocating to the warmer climes of the Channel Islands, we highlight the key professional and practical issues to ponder before giving notice to your existing chambers/employer.

Jurisdictional issues
Neither Jersey nor Guernsey are part of the UK – they are British Crown Dependencies (nor are they part of the European Union, so the impact of Brexit will likely be nominal). They are distinct jurisdictions - influenced by English common law, French civil law and Normandy Customary Law.

This means you need to understand the potential limitations of practicing – as well as the opportunities to secure further rights to practice. You will have to take further legal studies and undertake a local period of apprenticeship before you can litigate as an attorney in the Channel Islands. If you harbour partnership aspirations, note that you cannot become a partner in a firm unless you’re qualified in Jersey or Guernsey, so do your research.

Professional considerations
Research the opportunities available in your practice areas, and determine if there are suitable roles that interest you. Research the firms themselves before starting your application. Specialist offshore agents can help you do this effectively so that you can understand the market, the firm’s ethos, and the potential changes you face.

You also need to review your responsibilities and commitments to your existing chambers (or employer), particularly the conditions of any advanced agreement between you and chambers, and your chambers’ constitution. On leaving chambers, you may have to serve a notice period (usually, three months), or agree a compensation sum in lieu of notice. You may also have unpaid fees to collect from clients and instructing solicitors. This means making the move could be costly, so you really do need to weigh up the cost versus the potential opportunities if you were to relocate.

A key draw for lawyers relocating to the Channel Islands is the enhanced earning potential. Salaries there are commensurate with the magic circle firms, and subject to a maximum taxation rate of 20%. Bonuses are also often more generous (up to 20% of the salary). At the same time, the cost of living is no higher than the rest of the UK, so the financial advantages can be significant.

Work/life balance and commuting
The prospects of a great work/life balance in the Channel Islands are second to none, with less stress and no commuting; and more predictable hours and billable targets – occasionally interrupted, perhaps, by the odd deal or transaction requiring longer hours. Most lawyers finish their working day around 6pm. When you need to return to the UK, whether for work or pleasure, flights back to London are around half an hour – so you need not be concerned that you could be isolated.

Talk with other barristers who have already made the move and ask how they made it work for them. Speak to agents specialising in offshore recruitment about the opportunities and pitfalls of making a move.

Practical issues
You should also research the islands themselves (the local government websites and the local bar association websites will prove invaluable). Visit the islands to get a first-hand feel of the area as a whole, and where you could be based.

Coordinating a final move can be challenging: think about whether a local removal firm (rather than a UK firm) would be better equipped to arrange the practical move – bearing in mind customs regulations and procedures of Channel Island port authorities. If you want to buy a property, research the local rules (and these differ between Jersey and Guernsey) because your options may be limited. For instance, in Jersey you might need to be resident for some years before you can buy. Though the local rules can be complicated, you could be eligible for a housing licence giving you access to a greater range of rental properties.

There is no NHS in Jersey or Guernsey, so you will need to arrange health insurance for any partner or dependent you bring with you. Typically, your employer’s health insurance will cover both you and your spouse – but noone else.

And if the move doesn’t work out for you, your return to UK practice will undoubtedly be enhanced by your experience offshore.



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