Latest news – Talent retention the focus for firms; ‘Holistic approach’ needed for healthy lawyers; Salary hikes on the way for most

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,Marketing & Business Development,Strategy & Leadership,Uncategorized] May 29, 2019

Firms hellbent on keeping top employees

According to the 2019 ALPMA Australian Legal Industry Salary & HR Issues Survey, more than half of all Australian law firms expect to increase staff numbers this year, compared with 42 per cent in 2018, as firms seek to retain their best talent.

Salaries have increased for most roles across the profession. The survey also found that 76 per cent of employees are likely to receive an increase of CPI or above, while 79 per cent of firms are offering bonuses this year.

More than 300 law firms across Australia provided information on salaries paid for legal positions ranging from managing partners, lawyers and graduates through to executive management, legal operations and administration roles. In addition to boosting salaries, the survey indicates that 32 per cent of law firms in Australia have paid parental leave entitlements “over and above government schemes to the primary care-giver”.

Despite the industry being dominated by females, with 65 per cent of all positions held by women, gender inequality remains a serious issue for the profession. Four in 10 respondents believe there is a gender pay gap in the industry and under-representation by women in law firm partner ranks.

Healthy lawyers the aim for Law Council
As part of Law Week 2019, the Law Council of Australia called for greater awareness of the nexus between the health of the nation’s justice system and the health and wellbeing of clients, judges and lawyers. Speaking during the May event, the Law Council President, Arthur Moses SC, said a holistic approach was desperately needed to improve the quality of our justice system and effectively tackle mental health challenges among lawyers.

“Governments must recognise there is real cost – financial and human – in failing to invest in justice and adequately fund the legal system. Chronically under-resourced courts, under-funding of legal assistance by successive governments and royal commissions with tight deadlines place huge strain on the community, the judiciary and the legal profession,” Moses said.

“Mental health and mental illness present real challenges for our profession and broader society. Lawyers work in high-pressure environments and mental health issues impact on practitioners at higher rates than the general population. But these issues cannot be tackled in isolation. The legal profession is ultimately a service profession and, regardless of which area of law they practice, solicitors and barristers work on the front line to serve their clients and the administration of justice. The causes of mental health issues in the profession have been linked to over-commitment, job demands, bullying and harassment. Vicarious trauma has an impact, especially upon those working in criminal and family law.”

Moses said shortages in federal legal assistance funding had resulted in lawyers doing more pro bono work to meet access to justice needs, taking a huge toll on the profession and our justice system. “This has a flow-on effect. A lack of resources and funding impacts the mental health of members of the public, who are unable to access legal representation in their time of need and may need to self-represent. Backlogged, overworked courts result in delays, meaning prolonged stress for victims and witnesses. This also impacts upon judicial officers, who are hamstrung by crushing caseloads and increasing numbers of self-represented litigants, who require greater support, time and assistance. The lack of resourcing also impacts upon lawyers, many of whom on top of their paid work undertake additional pro bono work to assist some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Positive news on the salary front for lawyers

An annual wages survey indicates that 90 per cent of employers will increase salaries for their lawyers in their next reviews. This represents a slight increase on the previous year.

The FY 2019/20 Hays Salary Guide notes that demand for lawyers is on the rise courtesy of the impact of the recent banking royal commission, stronger resources markets, and the continued high workload for inhouse legal teams. In the private sector, more litigation and financial advisory specialists will be required in the aftermath of the banking inquiry.

Although wages are likely to rise, the level of the increases will be modest as a general rule. Hays suggests that 65 per cent of employers intend to raise salaries at the lower level of 3 per cent or less. Just 4 per cent of employers are looking to give pay hikes of 6 per cent or more, while more than a quarter of lawyers expect no increase whatsoever. The researchers indicate that lawyers will be willing to fight for their pay rises, with 46 per cent planning to ask for more money.

In-house salaries are likely to increase across most sectors. In the public sector, paralegals will be called on to give more support to lawyers on the back of the banking royal commission, leading to pay hikes for the paralegals. Likewise, construction lawyers are expected to be in demand.