The latest results of an end-2013 survey by Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA), the peak body for law field leaders and managers, reveals Australian legal salaries are improving and law field jobs are on the rise once more.
The 2008 GFC hit the legal profession hard causing waning business confidence and stagnant salary growth. Pay has remained practically dormant since the economic collapse until finally picking up this year at a rate of around 4.4%.
Warrick McLean, ALPMA National President, says things are looking up for lawyers at long last.
“The good news for employees is that most law firms (90 percent) are planning pay rises for next financial year, with 48% of law firms intending to negotiate individual pay rises higher than the CPI (down from 53% last year), while 32% are planning on offering rises in line with CPI.”
Law firms are regaining business confidence and hiring for expansion purposes, not just to fill immediate vacancies. “If you went back pre-GFC, we were seeing much more significant increases year-on-year than we are now. It's still flat, but the economy is still flat,” remarked Susan Comerford, ALPMA's Director & Cowell Clarke People & Practice Development Manager.
The survey found the biggest money-making positions are within large firms with over 150 employees:
1. As it turns out, mid-tier law firms pay their junior employees better than larger firms, but this may be simply so they aren’t lured away by fiercer competition. “That might be a reflection that the smaller firms find it harder to keep people, so they have to offer them more”, said Ms Comerford.
2. Lawyers practicing in Western Australia are most likely to enjoy salary bumps with 47% of WA law firms expecting to increase staff pay at a rate above CPI over the next 12 months. “The results are consistent with our own observations that WA leads the way in offering the highest salary levels relative to other Australian states”, said Sharon Henderson, Legal People Partner.
3. 69% of respondent firms offered staff an end-of year bonus, with 65% determining the bonus based on individual performance, 7% on firm performance and 26% using a mix of personal and firm performance indicators to award bonuses.
4. Lawyers in NSW can anticipate a 48% pay bump in line with CPI this year.
5. In Queensland, 37% of law firms are looking to grow employee salaries above CPI while another 9% said they are planning on freezing wages with no increase on the cards.
6. 20% of Victorian legal firms are aiming to freeze wages, but offer some increases to placate employees.
“Last year 83% of those planning a wage freeze were from small firms (less than 25 staff), but this year there is an even split between respondents from small firms and mid-sized firms (25 – 74 staff) who plan to put salary increases on hold”, said Mr McLean.
80% of those surveyed said they intend to hire more solicitors and lawyers.
39% expect to put on more paralegals.