Jewish lawyers thinking of working in or immigrating to Israel might be hesitant to do so considering the potential for a decrease in salary, intense legal market competition and lack of opportunity.
DLA Piper’s Israel Country Group head Jeremy Lustman’s story shows how there is increasing opportunity for foreign lawyers in Israel.
Lustman came to Israel in 2009 during a global financial crisis. The legal market was impacted just like every other industry, and lawyers were losing their jobs just like everyone else.
Now the largest law firm in the world, DLA Piper had four years prior formed through a merger between three firms, and was still finding itself. The idea was to expand internationally, but Israel still hadn’t been picked up.
In the midst of the financial turmoil, Lustman saw an opportunity. Conditions were uncertain anyway in the US; He proposed that he move to Israel and start a trial period of a year or two to get a sense of the market. Lustman proposed that he take a pay cut, and promised to travel a few times per year on his own dime to show that he was serious about the project.
Active since 2012, DLA Piper’s Israel group advises 200 Israeli clients, institutional bodies and private companies, regarding business abroad. The transactions facilitated by the firm are in the billions of dollars.
American Jewish lawyers want to make aliyah but worry about work
Lustman says he receives many queries from American Jewish lawyers about moving to Israel. They’ve expressed to him concerns about rising cost of living and antisemitism. He said that he believes the rising affluence in Israel has created further enticement.
Despite expressing interest, many are still hesitant, said Lustman. They focus on their topline – everyday living costs, support for their family. However, day-to-day costs like tuition, healthcare and entertainment are lower in Israel.
Lustman notes that the workforce was changed during the coronavirus pandemic, and while it isn’t always the standard, working remotely has become far more acceptable.
Remote work aside, Lustman reminds that one needs to “invest in acorns to grow oak trees.” Lustman said he championed the idea of “putting skin in the game.” He had taken a pay cut to show his employers that he was serious about his Israel venture, and that it was worth investing in.
Lustman advised those that were interested to come and try living in Israel out, and said that people shouldn’t be afraid of reinventing themselves.
Opportunities and obstacles for working as a lawyer in Israel
For foreign lawyers, this could mean taking a truncated version of the Israeli Bar to qualify to practice Israeli law – the Bar Association is protectionist and strictly against foreign attorneys practicing local law without proper qualification.
However, there are opportunities for foreign lawyers not practicing local law. Lustman said that “the need for lawyers remains incredibly strong.”
Since Lustman came to Israel many more multinational companies are operating in the country, either establishing branches, employing workers or investing in local industry.
Lustman said that “all this requires lots of lawyers” who can serve as bridges between different state law systems for those companies.
The start-up market also invites legal opportunity. Lustman said that three to four start-ups were founded in Israel per day. There are a growing number of companies that are no longer seeking an exit right away. He noted Waze’s $1.3 billion dollar sale to Google. Local founders are realizing they can achieve more if they hold out. With a lot more foreign investors coming in – who may also need foreign lawyers to advise them – they’re also seeking a hold on speedy exits.
Another opportunity that had opened up since Lustman had made the move to Israel was the Abraham Accords, the normalization of relations with Israel and Arab states in the region.
“We’ve really been excited by the Abraham Accords. At the beginning there was euphoria, those first six month moved slowly as it took time to understand the opportunities, and for the Emirates to understand where there can be synergy.”Jeremy Lustman
“We’ve really been excited by the Abraham Accords. At the beginning there was euphoria, those first six month moved slowly as it took time to understand the opportunities, and for the Emirates to understand where there can be synergy,” said Lustman.
While there was caution in the beginning, Lustman said he saw real change in around June 2021. There was more business travel, more investors. Lustman saw more of his customers seeking to open branches, purchase real estate and hire employees in countries like the United Arab Emirates. Lustman said Israel clients like Rapyd were setting up R&D facilities in the UAE. This isn’t just major news for Israel, but also for legal advisers who are needed to aid in the development of these plans.
Lustman advised that those interested in coming to Israel find the right community for them. He and DLA Piper had also created opportunities for those seeking a sense of community – the firm has been extremely active in local volunteering programs. Lustman expressed great pride in organizing a basketball tournament between several leading local Israeli law firms to raise funds for a United Hatzalah ambucycle.
That is not to say that there are no challenges in setting up shop in Israel. Worldwide there is a lot of competition, and as global economic turmoil spreads, legal fees were rising.
Israel also “always goes through its ups and downs geopolitically,” said Lustman, which translated into periods in which people might be less inclined to come to do business, those risks had been mitigated by the proliferation of Zoom.
As for the proposed judicial reforms, Lustman didn’t see it seriously impacting the business landscape. While he said that some entrepreneurs and investors might leave due to personal reasons, he didn’t see that happening on a wide scale.