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The second Tuesday of every month, Natalie Medlicott tries to head out of Mayer, Brown & Platt early. She’s got a few avocados to crush. It’s Taco Night at the Upper West Side apartment she shares with a fellow Australian. A flock of Australian lawyers (not to mention bankers and consultants) will be showing up for guacamole, bean dip, margaritas, and, yes, tacos, at the monthly Mexican-style Aussie fete. “We talk about work for about ten minutes,” says Medlicott, a fourth-year associate in the Chicago-based Mayer, Brown’s New York office. “Then we start to have fun.” Taco Night turnout has been trending up in recent months, for good reason: There are many more Australian lawyers in town. Shorthanded U.S. firms have already searched Canada and Great Britain to counteract associate attrition. Now they’re also going Down Under to beef up midlevel lawyer ranks. Firms are “now actively saying, ‘Yes, show us Australians, we’ll look at them,’ ” says Melinda Wallman, director of international recruiting for Major, Hagen & Africa. In the past two years, top U.S. firms have imported at least three dozen Aussie laterals, with the vast majority stationed in New York. Davis Polk & Wardwell and Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy now have eight Australian associates apiece. Sullivan & Cromwell has six, along with a lone New Zealander. Shearman & Sterling expects to have 11 Australians on board by this fall. Though hiring overseas has meant more paperwork — firms typically sponsor the expats’ work visas — partners say they’re getting experienced, upbeat lawyers, so it’s worth the extra fuss. “I’m impressed with … their willingness to learn and to work hard,” says Jeffrey Tabak, cochair of the hiring committee at New York’s Weil, Gotshal & Manges, which has hired five Australians. “They’re like any good lawyers,” adds Shearman partner Reade Ryan. “But their edge is that they’re very, very personable … They seem to fit right in to our culture.” The Aussie lawyers, most of whom work on financings and other corporate-side matters, arrive fully warned. They know that passing the New York bar exam won’t be easy, that Manhattan winters are tough (at least by Sydney standards), that finding a decent apartment is hell. They’ve also heard all about the sweatshop hours — although, given that junior lawyers Down Under typically bill about 1,800 hours a year (compared to anywhere from 2,000 to 2,400 hours in New York ), some are still in for a shock. “I definitely have done more overnights here,” says Nick Hardge, a fourth-year Australian associate at Milbank. In one recent 65-hour marathon for an aircraft financing deal, he recalls, he came into the office around noon on a Sunday. He returned home Wednesday at 5 a.m. “That would be practically unheard of” in Australia, says Hardge, a veteran of Sydney’s Minter Ellison. Sartaj Gill, a fourth-year at Davis Polk, observes that lead times for deal closings tend to be longer back home, so there’s not as much urgency to work fast. “Here, it’s unusual for associates to get home before 9:30 p.m., says Gill. “In Australia, [it's] more the exception [not] to be home at 8:30 to 9 at night.” There is an upside to working like a (dingo) dog: A year and a half ago, Gill more than tripled the $55,000 Australian salary (roughly $33,000 in U.S. dollars) he was earning as a second-year lawyer at Sydney’s Allen Allen & Hemsley. And that was before the recent pay hikes. Now Gill figures he’s making about four times what he’d earn at home. Australian firms have begun countering with their own pay raises, according to Sydney legal recruiter Jenny Dolman. Still, even at a top Sydney or Melbourne firm, the typical third- or fourth-year associate earns somewhere between $75,000-100,000 Australian (roughly $45,000-60,000 in U.S. dollars), a pittance compared to midlevels here. The huge pay gap has been sparking extra interest in the U.S. market. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people asking me how to get a job here,” says Mayer, Brown associate Medlicott. “I think the word’s getting out about New York.” The American obsession with pay can take some getting used to. “In Australia, the rudest thing you can possibly do [is] to ask someone how much they earn,” says Jacob Horowitz, a second-year associate at New York’s Seward & Kissel. “I’m amazed at the attitude of associates here,” adds John Stewart, an Aussie associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson. “They’re the highest-paid lawyers in the world, and they still think they should get more.” For now, at least, that attitude doesn’t seem to be rubbing off. Compared to their U.S. counterparts, the Aussies are generally far more cheerful about associate life. “They don’t seem as jaded,” admits U.S. native Dan Ronnen, a fourth-year at Fried, Frank. “People coming out of law school [here] just seem less excited. I think part of it is just coming to a new country and experiencing different types of things.” That enthusiasm has its limits. Taco Night co-hostess Medlicott still clucks with disapproval at the hapless guest who arrived with a case of Bud. “It’s still sitting in the fridge,” says Medlicott. “We don’t know who [brought] it. If we did, we wouldn’t invite them again.”

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