Wanted: Post-Brexit trade lawyers willing to work on the cheap

  • Business
  • Monday, 27 Feb 2017

LONDON: Seven months after then-Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. would need to “tool up” on trade experts because of the British vote to leave the European Union, the country is following through with a recruitment campaign that faces market hurdles.

The Government Legal Department has published vacancies for as many as 17 London-based trade lawyers who would receive a starting annual salary of £48,400.

While the going rate for British government lawyers, that’s as much as 60% less than what similar private-sector positions offer.

It’s even more of a hard sell considering the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, has a 700-strong trade department, meaning a dearth of national government lawyers specialized in the area across all of Europe.

“You really can’t get anyone with any experience in trade law for that price,” said Mark Husband, a London-based head hunter at Cogence Search. “It’s probably the lowest conceivable entry point. It’s about two-thirds of what someone would require for anyone with any degree of experience,” he said, and “about a fifth of what someone with any experience of trade negotiations would demand.”

The UK, a member of the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations, risks economic damage unless the government can attract talented lawyers to craft independent commercial policies for Britain when it leaves the EU in 2019.

The successful candidates will not be short of challenges: they’ll be charged with reworking relations with the World Trade Organization and striking free-trade agreements with such partners as the US and Australia.

Requirements include “a solid understanding of trade, public, EU and international law” while experience of international negotiations is “desirable,” according to the announcement.

There’s a March 8 deadline for applications.

Salary isn’t everything for trade lawyers and some may be tempted to gain experience by working for the UK government as it embarks on an unprecedented undertaking, said David Carbery, a legal and compliance headhunter at Shadowhound Ltd in London.

“This will press the right buttons for some people,” Carbery said. All the same, “financially it’s a barrier to getting the best and brightest,” he said.

The UK has a personnel handicap as a result of its 44 years of EU membership, during which British trade policy has been run by the Brussels-based commission. — Bloomberg

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