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5 tips on taking your legal career overseas and to new heights!
25 March 2024

5 tips on taking your legal career overseas and to new heights!

Helen-Tung su

Do you fantasise about foreign cities, buzzing cultures and access to connected world hubs, new people and perspectives? Well, as a lawyer you are well placed to explore these very things and expand your career footprint. Whether it be practising law or using your valuable professional skillset in a new way - there is a world of opportunities out there. 

When venturing offshore laying a foundation for the big move will help facilitate your success, and hearing from those who have gone before can be a great source of inspiration.

Helen Tung, barrister, senior counsel and teaching fellow at the College of Law, has led an impressive legal career. Her professional and personal life has spanned living and working in Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, America and the United Arab Emirates. Helen’s career illustrates just how the law can propel you onto the world stage and into a wide range of sectors.  

Having been admitted to the Bar in the UK, Helen later accepted an opportunity to head to Silicon Valley as part of the Singularity University’s Global Solutions Program and ended up co-founding a satellite propulsion start-up. Helen then became involved in the UAE’s burgeoning space industry where she now works as a consultant on emerging technologies like AI (artificial intelligence), ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), as well as a mentor for start-up founders and younger lawyers. 

Helen has been able to carve out a unique career and one in line with growth industries like space, ESG and tech. We caught up with Helen to get her advice for those wanting to take their careers to the next international level.

1. Focus on networking and be open to unexpected opportunities

According to Helen, never, ever underestimate the value of networking and keeping an open mind to potential opportunities. Having a conversation or making new connections is rarely wasted energy. 

Assuming you’ve got a good law degree, you have to focus on networking not just studying,” Helen says. “Focus on building those relationships with mentors and contacts. You never know who might offer you a role, or who might have a client for you, or simply good advice to share.” 

It also helps to adopt the attitude that all experiences, successful or not, can be a learning one and potentially open doors.

I started off my career at the Bar, then co-founded a satellite propulsion start-up,” Helen says. “Though it failed, I had the most incredible experience of learning what it takes to run a start-up and made so many new connections.”

This adventurous career approach eventually led to Helen being offered a role looking at insurance for the rocket launchers of satellites in the UAE. Helen gained her entry point into the space sector in the Middle East.

I am very grateful for all the people I have met from London, at the start of my career I didn’t know anybody and I had no contacts,” Helen says. “Throughout my career I’ve found that every success comes from the support of others and standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

I’m also grateful to the Bar council, the lawyers I’ve met, friends and family, my sisters, my mum - all that support adds to your success. Not just one thing.”

2. Figure out what works for you sooner rather than later…

While it is important to explore various careers and specialisations, it is also crucial to hone in on what you like, what you’re good at doing and how you like to work.

As a young lawyer, you may wish to try different areas of law,” Helen says. “Quite soon, you’ll want to figure out what it is that you wish to build your strength on. I like to use the analogy of a knife that’s being sharpened. You’re sharpening your skillset, and this will become your unique selling point (USP) when compared to others in your field.”

Today, Helen has crafted a career that taps into her many interests and works well to support her ‘global citizen’ status. 

Currently, I primarily work as a consultant,” Helen explains. “I wear two hats: the legal, strategic hat where I help companies with emerging technologies like AI or hot topics like ESGI also work as a mentor and coach for start-up entrepreneurs and younger lawyers. It’s an opportunity to share skillsets and I also find a lot of value and meaning in that.”

3. Identify your strengths and USP

Part of the process of figuring out what works for you involves identifying your strengths and potential challenges. This will help guide your career choices and firm up your unique selling points. Think about both your hard and soft skills. 

There are the obvious technical strengths such as expertise and experience in a certain area of the law or working with a certain type of client. But while you may hold an impressive track record with credentials like a bulging deal sheet, top firm ranking and so on, don’t forget your soft skills.

Much of a lawyer’s work is working under pressure and working effectively with others, both peers and clients. How well can you handle a crisis?” Helen asks. “Alongside knowing your strengths and weaknesses, it’s good to know how you respond under pressure. How do you deal with your manager, clients and colleagues?”

Being able to illustrate soft skills such as prioritisation, problem solving, relationship management and even delegation, can set you apart from your competitors of equal technical standing.

4. Show who you are 360 degrees!

Do you love singing, horses, gardening? It's important your future firm knows who they are working with because very often than not it's assumed you are bright and smart. A firm is hiring for cultural fit, and opening up about your other interests can help the hiring manager see the whole person they would be employing.  

It’s important to show who you are,” Helen says. “Alongside the very strong law student or advocate, what other things do you enjoy? Share a little more about yourself as this will help you stand out.

5. Get intentional: Write down your career mission and vision

When it comes to planning your career, Helen suggests a very intentional approach.

Consider writing down your mission and vision of why you want to be a lawyer,” Helen advises. When I went through my journey it was not straightforward, so you want to stick with your plan.

If, for whatever reason, there’s a rough patch, it’s important to keep motivated and know why you’re doing this. You could use a vision board, or some mind mapping. Whatever you do, you need to know what is my vision?

It’s an exercise useful at any stage of your career and for someone like Helen, whose career continually evolves, it is an important guide.

At this stage, I’m looking forward to doing more arbitration work, teaching, as well as working in emerging areas like space, AI, and ESG,” Helen says.

Thinking about the future of law with so many global changes afoot, Helen is both excited for the next generation of lawyers but she also stresses the importance of differentiation.

As we go through a huge transformation in technology and AI - being able to share your unique talents and your personality, is very important.

Taking steps to work abroad, like in the UK, is a great training ground for those aspiring to do international work. It will definitely toughen you up as an individual and as a practitioner. But most importantly, I think you need to enjoy the journey - so don't forget that.”  

Helen Tung teaches International Arbitration for the College of Law Australia.

For information on becoming accredited in the UK, please head to The College of Legal Practice website and for in-depth details on the process, head to this advice article.