With the legal landscape of the UK changing towards a more globalised economy, it is perhaps a good idea to discuss law opportunities working abroad. In this article, we look at what it’s like to be an English paralegal working in China.
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When talking about an English paralegal, what I am referring to is my experience being a paralegal who has worked in English law firms, having a grounding in legal education but yet to qualify as a lawyer in England and Wales. This could also potentially include current undergraduate law students.
As an English paralegal you get the chance to work on a number of different cases, however the level of involvement and seriousness of the case is limited based on the individual’s own experiences. In general though I was expected to:
Be exactly on time for work
To work a full day’s shift with set breaks
To work on generally administrative and potentially repetitive material
To go home between 6-7pm
To eat at the office canteen
What is Life Like in China?
In contrast to my above experience in a British law firm, my Chinese regional law firm experience involved the following:
You were expected to arrive at work around 9-9:30 am
To go home when your work for the day was finished
There was no culture that working late guaranteed promotion
If you were tired at work it was perfectly reasonable for you to put down your head on your desk to rest
There was no emphasis on office attire like suits unless clients were coming into the office
You were allowed to have a one hour lunch break, followed by a 1 hour nap before starting work again
There was no emphasis on eating at an office canteen instead you could mix with anyone in the office and go out to lunch
At the start of each month on a Friday the firm celebrated the birthday of everyone within that calendar month and welcomed all new members staff to the team
Senior partners take out juniors for lunch or dinner
From day one you were working on high level English cases
There were other differences to the ones listed above but those mostly related to life outside of the office. With that being said the experience was in some respects similar to working for a UK based legal charity rather than a city or high street law firm.
That being said, some of the top British law firms support their staff in ways that even the best Chinese law firms fail to do. These include:
Time trackers to keep track of billable hours
Gyms and free memberships
Sleeper pods to encourage late night working
Is it Worth Getting International Experience?
Having worked now in two continents, I can say the experience is worth having. It was definitely easier to work in China than it is in the UK. The pace of life is more relaxed, the office environment is friendlier on average but on the other hand, there are fewer additional perks and the salaries are much lower.
Similar to the firm I was based in, many Chinese law firms practice internationally. This means that you are able to parlay your experience and education in the British legal system into a different role abroad. If you are struggling to find work that suits you in the UK, then it may be worth looking elsewhere abroad for other interesting opportunities.
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