Latest news – Top talent the focus; Indigenous justice support; Missed opportunity with diversity

[Australasian Law Management Journal,General Management,People Management(HR),Strategy & Leadership] April 27, 2021

Talent management and wellbeing a priority for firms

Developing strategies to retain talented employees is the highest priority for Australian law firms this year, according to the 2021 Australian Legal Industry HR Issues & Salary Survey Report.

The survey, which is compiled by the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA), is drawn from the responses from almost 300 law firms covering more than 10,000 employed legal professionals of varying sizes from all states and territories. Two-thirds (68 per cent) of respondents indicate that they struggle with employee retention and talent management issues. On the back of the impact of COVID-19, 60 per cent of firms also say that managing the mental health of staff will be a priority.

The report shows that while growth in firms has been lower during COVID-19 than had been predicted before the pandemic, employment across the profession “remained steady”. Thirty-four per cent of responding law firms had increased staffing levels by the end of 2020, while 34 per cent maintained a consistent headcount. A further 32 per cent reduced their workforce over the course of 2020. Cuts were most prevalent among small and medium firms. On a positive note, law firms continue to provide secure employment, with a majority of staff employed on a permanent full-time basis.

Other findings include:

  • Salaries across the legal industry were up slightly in 2020, with an average overall increase of 1 per cent. This compares with national wage growth of 1.4 per cent for the year ending December 2020. Firms reported that wages were flat for lawyers and paralegals, secretarial and administrative support staff and finance and IT staff. Executive and senior management salaries were higher.
  • Firms continue to offer a range of employment benefits and bonuses to attract and retain talent. Broadly consistent with last year, three quarters of Australian law firms are offering some form of bonus as a component of the remuneration package they provide employees.

The report suggests that firms are optimistic about their growth prospects this year, with 59 per cent saying they expect staffing levels at their firms to increase over the next 12 months.

For more information on the ALPMA report, click here.


Indigenous justice proposals gain support

Fresh announcements by the Government and the Opposition aimed at addressing the systemic disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system were welcomed by the Law Council of Australia on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Government has announced it will spend $2.4 million to set up a new custody notification service in South Australia, while the Opposition has announced a proposed $92.5 million package for justice reinvestment and legal services. Law Council President Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said the Government now had an opportunity to use the federal Budget process to lead the way in addressing the national tragedy of over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system.

“While these fresh announcements are certainly welcome, what the nation urgently requires is a comprehensive national response to address the vastly disproportionate imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” Dr Brasch said. “We need a multi-faceted government response supported by adequate funding. The ALRC’s Pathways to Justice Report provides such a framework. Until there is fulsome, considered, coordinated and an appropriately resourced response to that report we cannot say we’ve seen the commitment required to change the current trajectory.

“It is a national shame that 30 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody the problem of disproportionate imprisonment has grown far worse. The Law Council has long called for a focus on justice reinvestment, increased legal assistance funding, adoption of effective Closing the Gap targets, early intervention and prevention strategies and the adoption of community-led culturally appropriate services for Indigenous people. We need new investment in new programs to divert young people and children from custody.”

The Australian Labor Party’s proposed $92.5 million package includes commitments of $79 million to provide funding for justice reinvestment initiatives and $13.5 million for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services.

Lack of employment diversity a loss for businesses

Australian business leaders are missing an opportunity to improve their operations through an embrace of workplace diversity, according to research from employment services provider atWork Australia.

The research indicates that, by not prioritising inclusion, they narrow their talent pool and miss the business benefits of diverse workforces that include people living with disability, Indigenous Australians and other minority or cultural groups. The survey figures reveal that about a quarter (26 per cent) of all Australians would be comfortable to work at a business that is not inclusive of different people. This group was most likely to include men (35 per cent compared to 18 per cent of women), senior managers (44 per cent compared with 22 per cent of the general public) and those with a household income over $100,000 (31 per cent compared with 23 per cent of lower-income households).

With many industries rebuilding, the time is right to redress the balance of workforce diversity, says Sotir Kondov, atWork Australia’s Executive General Manager for Disability Employment Services. “Currently, 66 per cent of Australians are employed, however this figure drops to 48 per cent for those living with disability and 46.6 per cent for Indigenous Australians. Additionally, there are 1.5 million jobless families nationwide, which accounts for one in five.”

The national survey of 1696 people asked respondents whether they were comfortable, uncomfortable or would refuse to work in a business that was not committed to having a diverse and inclusive workforce. Concerningly, about 1 in 5 people within important working population groups were likely to be comfortable with no focus on diversity in the workplace, including:

  • the self-employed (36 per cent) and office workers (30 per cent);
  • over a third (35 per cent) of full-time workers and almost a fifth (19 per cent) part-timers;
  • nearly one in five (19 per cent) students.