US-trained immigrant lawyers make a case for moving careers here

Lawyers who have made aliya have found a better work environment, but lower salaries.

Lawyer 88 224 (photo credit: )
Lawyer 88 224
(photo credit: )
High competition, lower wages, and extra examinations have not stopped US-educated and trained lawyers from continuing to arrive here with their Blackberries in hand. "It is a very competitive market. You have to build your reputation in order to succeed," Gyora Erdinast, partner at Erdinast, Ben Nathan & Co. (EBN), told The Jerusalem Post. "I think normally you have a decrease in salary at the start." Erdinast earned his law degree cum laude from Tel Aviv University and became a member of the Israel Bar Association in 1985. He subsequently completed his LL.M at Yale University, and worked at a prominent New York firm before returning to Israel to start his own firm, which specializes in civil and commercial law. EBN began with two attorneys and now employs 45. "About 25 percent of them have had US education or training, sometimes both," said Erdinast. Erdinast said that in his case, the ideological move to Israel has turned out to be a positive career move as well. "I knew I would have to sacrifice at the beginning, but I believed that soon enough it would change, which was really the case. After a year or two I started making more money than what I earned in the US," he said. But not all lawyers arrive here to start their own firms. Minna Felig, a former New York lawyer herself and graduate of Georgetown Law School, started LawJobs, an Israeli-based company which acts as a strategic adviser and recruiter for local law firms. "What we usually do is schedule a pilot trip [for prospective immigrants] before their actual date of arrival. Then we set up as many interviews as we can with potential employers," Felig told the Post. "I've been in business for eight years and I can only think of two people who have decided not to come [after their pilot trip]." Referring to the difficulties lawyers face when making the transition from the US to Israel, Felig commented: "It really depends on what they've done... The three things I'm looking for are... corporate, securities, or licensing [lawyers]. When you have a specialty like litigation or labor law... it is much more connected with local law." She also spoke of her own experience coming to Israel 15 years ago: "In our era, people were taking 90% pay cuts and your hopes for getting even a livable salary were very low. Now, I would say they are taking a 50% pay cut." Felig described her husband Cliff's struggle while practicing law in New York as a Shabbat observer: "Working on a big deal on a tight time frame… you are handed something Wednesday morning and you are expected to be done by Sunday night, so on Saturday night you work 25 hours straight." She also explained that her husband felt anxiety about coworkers who would pick up work during Shabbat he would have done. "It's a very hard thing when you are someone who runs things and you feel like you're not pulling your weight. In a big city law firm in America you are working all the time... you are not allowed to have a life outside of work. Whereas here the whole idea of having a family life is really encouraged, even in the most secular firms." In addition to the traditional practice of law in Israel, the emerging market of legal outsourcing to Israel is providing US-trained lawyers with employment opportunities without any need to pass the Israel Bar. Outside Counsel Solutions (OCS) is just one example of an independent outsource contracting company which takes advantage of Israel's pool of lawyer-immigrants and its relatively lower pay structure. With OCS, "I am able to make use of my training in the States instead of starting from scratch. We don't have to take all the exams, we can just jump right in." Meira Ferzinger, an OCS attorney, told the Post. Outsourcing allows US firms to be productive around the clock. "[US law firms] can send me their work at the end of the day, and by the time they get up in the morning it's done," explained Ferzinger. Ferzinger said that she has witnessed a culture of cooperation at the firm that goes against the stigma often attached to lawyers. "All the lawyers here try to help each other out and work together. The people who work for OCS are hardworking [and] don't have personal aspirations to make partner or beat out the other guy. The clients don't need to worry that we have some ulterior motives" said Ferzinger.