Aliyah and Law: How foreign lawyers immigrate - opinion

As a foreign lawyer, you will need to be registered with the Israel Bar Association to be placed in its directory of foreign lawyers.

A view of the jury box in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court. (photo credit: CHIP EAST / REUTERS)
A view of the jury box in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court.
(photo credit: CHIP EAST / REUTERS)
You are a US or a UK lawyer who finally decided to move forward with your long-life dream of making aliyah. Congratulations and good luck – this life-changing transition comes with many questions regarding you and your family’s future in the Holy Land.
Other than contemplating the well-known “where to live” discussion among Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Modi’in or maybe even Efrat, you are probably thinking about what will be the next step for your career. At this juncture, this article aims to give some answers to newcomer lawyers who are asking exactly those questions.
First things first: Where am I and what should I do?
Welcome to Israel’s cutthroat, highly competitive legal market. If you have not already noticed, Israelis tend to be intense even without being lawyers, and guess what, a lot of them are! Israel’s legal market is the most saturated legal market in the world with about one lawyer for every 139 people (that’s about 60,000 active lawyers).
As a foreign lawyer, you will need to be registered with the Israel Bar Association to be placed in its directory of foreign lawyers. You will be allowed to practice foreign law and foreign law only. You will not be permitted to appear in front of an Israeli court as a lawyer. If you wish to practice Israeli law, you will have to take several tests, perhaps even a Bar exam, depending on your years of seniority as a lawyer.
The main difficulties and challenges for lawyers making aliyah include: the market’s aggressive character, along with bureaucracy, the HUGE difference in salaries and hourly fees, and the language barrier, as well as a completely different legal system.
After briefly reviewing the challenges, it is time to look at your fortes or your unique selling point to the Israeli legal market. There are two main features that come to mind and are the most crucial – whether you are a native English speaker and the extent of your experience with international legal work.
Weighing in both sides of the equation, there is one preferable conclusion: The best route for foreign lawyers, especially those with experience who are relocating to Israel, is to stay in their own court (no pun intended) – the international one.
If you found this article a bit alarming so far, I have great news for you. Yes, relocating is always a challenge, maybe even more so when it’s to the land of milk and honey, but don’t get discouraged. Foreign lawyers actually have a variety of great opportunities in Israel.
With Israel’s market becoming more and more global every year, the amount of international work is always on the rise, and this gives you a number of possible routes you can take:
• Israeli law firms – Israel’s international legal work is dominated by a fraction of Israeli law firms. The large Israeli law firms (and a limited number of boutique law firms) oversee most of the international legal work.
Fast forward to the conclusion – those large firms will be happy to have experienced international lawyers on board. The upside here is that these top law firms usually offer better working conditions than other law firms.
• International law firms – There are more and more international law firms that operate in Israel. A growing number of them are looking to increase their Israeli activity (Israel Desk) by having a physical presence in Israel (permanent representatives or a completely operational office in Israel).
This trend of growing activity by international law firms has been around for a couple of years, and did not stop in 2020 despite the pandemic. In recent months, there have been at least two international law firms that upgraded their Israel activity: Sullivan & Worcester and Kennedys. Both opened offices during the COVID-19 crisis and will grow stronger on the heels of the recent diplomatic developments, including the recent treaties signed in the Middle East.
This situation facilitates two options for newcomer lawyers making aliyah to Israel: either work in one of the many existing international law firms that operate in Israel, or make aliyah together with your current firm.
It is no secret that some of the foreign law firms operating in Israel today started with one of their partners wishing to make aliyah. Israel’s booming economy will give you lots of selling points to use when proposing the Israel-office idea to your current firm.
Go in-house: A growing number of Israeli companies are global. The ones that are still not global are inspiring to expand worldwide and this means that these companies are looking for foreign lawyers to work as corporate counsels.
The greater demand for international legal professionals has also meant the rise of Alternative Legal Service Providers (ALSP) firms, such as LawFlex, which is always looking for foreign lawyers.
To summarize, if you are a foreign lawyer thinking about making aliyah, your language and international experience will probably prevail over the difficulties that come along with relocating. In fact, Israel’s global legal and business market is the place for you!
The writer is head of Robus’s international legal marketing department.