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Cite as: August 2015 89 (8) LIJ, p.73

Demand on the rise

Local and overseas job markets for lawyers are recovering.

For the first time since the global financial crisis (GFC) hit, local and overseas job markets have seen a sustained increase in demand for lawyers.

Buoyed by recovering local and global financial markets, increased merger and acquisition (M&A) activity, and increased business investment, the demand for front-end commercial lawyers has increased substantially. Though not the boom times of last decade when firms were under tremendous pressure to retain lawyers, the recovery seems to be here for good.

Led by a Sydney market struggling to find lawyers in transactional areas including finance, corporate, property and construction, the national market is faced with a twofold issue: increasing demand and a very real lack of supply. In Melbourne, areas such as property, private M&A, corporate, finance and construction are recovering well, although lagging behind Sydney.

Melbourne firms are just beginning to struggle to fill commercial vacancies and one of the most concerning factors for employers is the worsening supply. The largest employers of commercial lawyers, large local and national firms, hired far fewer lawyers in their transactional areas during the GFC. As a result of this, there is a greatly reduced pool of commercial lawyers available at any one time. For lawyers who were lucky enough to find graduate roles in the last five years there is now sustained demand for their services.

But it’s not good news for local small firms – the talent that the large firms will need in their large transactional groups will have to come from smaller commercial firms.

While insurance and employment have remained steady locally, tax, litigation and IP/IT have been slower to recover. While litigation may remain slow for some time, the other transactional areas such as tax, IP and IT should improve over time.

Global markets are likewise showing signs of improvement, although most are still in the early phases of recovery. Presently, the demand overseas is for lawyers working in the largest Australian firms. London has shown steady growth, with a growing appetite for Australians in finance and corporate law. The nearby Channel Islands are enjoying stronger demand, and are more open to Australians from smaller firms than their London counterparts. Areas such as corporate, commercial, financial services, trusts, insolvency and litigation are improving.

Hong Kong is performing well for those with Mandarin language skills as a preference, but there is also demand for those without Mandarin in finance, corporate, insolvency, litigation and employment.

The Middle East remains subdued, with lawyers in resources, construction and corporate in more demand. In Singapore the market remains relatively subdued and in the US there is little appetite for Australians outside of finance.

For many lawyers considering a move, there are now more options than ever. When or whether we again see global firms coming to our shores in droves raiding us for talent is difficult to foresee. Significantly though, given the already diminished supply of commercial lawyers locally, if the UK firms do start raiding it could readily become a perfect storm of increasing local and overseas demand, coupled with minimal supply.

  • Finance, corporate, property and construction lawyers are in demand.
  • Large firms trained far fewer lawyers post GFC.
  • Stocks of commercial lawyers have been hardest hit.
  • Small firms will face retention issues.
  • Overseas opportunities are opening up.
    Paul Burgess is a former litigation lawyer and a director of Burgess Paluch Legal Recruitment, a specialist legal recruitment agency.


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