Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

Wanted: Post-Brexit Trade Lawyers Willing to Work on the Cheap

  • New Brexit-related jobs pay much less than London law firms
  • Gap risks weakening plan for independent British trade policy

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 pounds ($60,747). While the going rate for British government lawyers, that’s as much as 60 percent 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.”

Economic Risk

The U.K., a member of the Group of Seven leading industrialized 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 U.S. 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 U.K. government as it embarks on an unprecedented undertaking, said David Carbery, a legal and compliance headhunter at Shadowhound Ltd. in London.

Best, Brightest

“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.

To be sure, the government is also recruiting for more senior posts to help ease the path to Brexit -- with a salary to match. The Department for International Trade, led by Brexit supporter Liam Fox, advertised earlier this month for a chief trade negotiation adviser, with pay of as much as 160,000 pounds.

The U.K. 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. The commission handles everything from EU tariffs on imported goods and talks on curbing a global steel glut to European complaints at the WTO and negotiations on commercial agreements with countries such as South Korea and Canada.

The U.K. government expressed confidence it’s up to the task of replicating that capacity in miniature.

Talent Pool

“Ongoing recruitment is enabling us to build a team from the widest pool of talent in the civil service and externally, across a range of policy and corporate expertise and international experience,” the U.K. Department for International Trade said in an e-mailed statement.

Meanwhile, the British government is offering other incentives. The legal department’s vacancies notice says candidates have the option of applying to fill the jobs on a part-time basis.

“We are truly committed to flexible working and providing a work/life balance for our team,” the notice says.

— With assistance by Nikos Chrysoloras

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