Latest news – Sexual harassment targeted; Salary snapshot for lawyers; Commerce, insurance lawyers in demand
National Action Plan to cut sexual harassment
Eliminating sexual harassment in the legal profession is part of the Law Council’s long-running commitment to inclusion and diversity in the legal profession. The recent release of the National Action Plan to Reduce Sexual Harassment in the Australian Legal Profession (NAP) heralds the start of a united and coordinated process to address the issue.
Law Council President Pauline Wright said the plan was aimed at addressing the regulatory and cultural change factors necessary to facilitate better experiences for legal professionals. “Sexual harassment is unacceptable in the legal profession and the Law Council and its Constituent Bodies are committed to its elimination,” she said. “One way of achieve this is to outline specific law reform proposals as policy positions of the Law Council. The NAP also includes measures that the legal profession can implement to drive cultural change,” Ms Wright said.
- advocating for federal law reform amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth) (SDA).
- supporting the work of the Australian Human Rights Commission, particularly in relation to the establishment of a Workplace Sexual Harassment Council, amending the SDA, the harmonisation of federal and state and territory discrimination laws; and the establishment of education and training programs for judicial officers and tribunal members
- driving cultural change in the legal profession through a proposed reformulation of Rule 42 of the Australian Solicitors’ Conduct Rules; the development of a national model sexual harassment policy and guidelines and a centralised source of information and suite of educational tools; the facilitation of a consistent complaints process; the consideration of bystander provisions; and supporting those who have experienced sexual harassment.
- advocating for the establishment of a Federal Judicial Commission.
“The NAP and the measures proposed will not solve every problem relevant to sexual harassment,” Wright said. “It is important to note that this a living document, setting out a framework for change, the specifics of which will continue to evolve as each measure is developed.
“The NAP is just the start of a united and coordinated process that will continue to be reviewed and refined as the measures are developed and implemented in consultation with the Law Council’s Constituent Bodies.
ATO provides snapshot of legal salaries
The recent release of statistics from the Australian Taxation Office provides an insight into the earning power of lawyers. The figures indicate that, on average, lawyers earn a salary of $184,958 per year, based on the average income of lawyers across all areas of law, putting them among the top 10 salary earners in Australia. On average, they earn more than CEOs and managing directors, but they are well behind specialist medical practitioners such as surgeons and anaesthetists.
A generalist in-house counsel earns an average salary of $128,988, according to data from SEEK. Building and construction lawyers average $124,041, while corporate lawyers average $118,558. The typical family lawyer in Australia earns $97,981.
As expected, the size of a lawyer’s firm or company can affect salary levels. General counsel for a global company can take home between $285,000 and $440,000, while GCs with multijurisdictional coverage can expect annual pay between $400,000 and $750,000, with the most experienced earning an average of $750,000 to $1 million per year.
An analysis of the ATO figures by Lexology shows that there is a significant gender pay gap among barristers. Female barristers earned an average annual income of $70,227, while male barristers brought home more than twice that – an average of $190,454.
Commerce, insurance to drive legal demand
Global recruiter Hays expects commercial litigators and insurance specialists to be among the most in-demand legal practitioners in 2021. In a recent report, Hays commented that “litigation was a highly buoyant area pre-COVID-19 and is expected to grow rapidly in 2021 as individuals and business owners fall into contractual or company disputes due to pandemic-induced financial pressure”.
Insurance practices have also seen a lot of activity as a result of factors such as pandemic-related claims and construction and climate issues. Hays adds that the market continues to seek legal experts who can work on child and sexual abuse claims following Royal Commission investigations and subsequent historical abuse claims.
The recruiter also revealed that experience in insolvency and commercial property – particularly in relation to acquisitions, disposals and leasing matters – is highly sought after in Australia’s legal jobs market. Demand for such skills is growing, especially in cases where they are considered critical to project delivery or business operations.