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Pay up, work increases

News

Cite as: (2004) 78(9) LIJ, p. 27

The 2003/04 financial year was a good one for private practice and inhouse solicitors, with increased activity leading to higher pay.

Salaries for lawyers in private practice rose nationally by 9 per cent last year as greater legal activity led to a more buoyant jobs market.

The 2004 Mahlab Recruitment Survey found that salaries for private practice lawyers in Melbourne rose by up to 24 per cent for star performers, although some experience bands recorded zero or negligible growth.

The average growth was just above the 2002/03 salary increase of 8.5 per cent.

The survey, released on 6 August, said a combination of increased work and an increased demand for high-calibre Australian lawyers returning from overseas led to the overall pay increase.

In Melbourne and Sydney there was heightened activity in corporate, banking and finance, tax, intellectual property and employment relations law.

The high demand for commercial property and construction lawyers that occurred in 2003 stabilised this year.

The survey, however, had a warning for employers. It said that the increased buoyancy in the market had resulted in a greater number of private practice lawyers expressing an interest in moving firms, going into the corporate sector or heading overseas.

Law firms were offering a wider range of non-monetary benefits, with the most popular being professional memberships (80 per cent of lawyers surveyed), study leave (47 per cent), additional leave without pay (45 per cent) and full fees for study (42 per cent).

About 38 per cent of lawyers surveyed received flexible work arrangements, while only 9 per cent received a part-time partnership.

Law Institute human resources manager Katie Round said law firms needed to consider the non-monetary reasons that motivate staff to stay at a firm.

“Often high on the list of reasons why people leave or stay at a firm are intangibles, such as the firm’s culture, ability to advance their career, the amount of support and feedback that they receive from their manager and the challenge of the work,” Ms Round said.

Corporate lawyers also enjoyed more pay last financial year, with an average increase of 5.22 per cent. This was slightly down on the 2002/03 average increase of 5.5 per cent.

This modest increase stemmed from a reasonably high degree of recruitment activity during the 2003/04 financial year driven by more corporations deciding to take on more legal work inhouse.

The greatest demand was for lawyers with between three and six years’ post-admission experience. There was great demand for commercial lawyers, with significant demand for lawyers with specialist financial services, superannuation, property, construction and resources experience.

The survey reported an upturn in the volume of inhouse activity in the information technology and investment banking sectors, areas that had been quiet in recent years because of global economic factors.

It also found that many corporations hired inhouse counsel for the first time during 2003/04.

The Mahlab survey reported that more partners were transferring to mid-tier firms.

The greater volume of legal activity during the past financial year has resulted in more work and more business opportunities for mid-tier firms.

Partner salaries saw average salaries for partners at top-tier firms rise dramatically from $585,000 in 2002/03 to $700,000 last year. Average salaries for mid-tier partners rose from $360,000 to $395,000 and for small-firm partners from $250,000 to $275,000.

Mahlab Recruitment Victorian managing director Katherine Sampson said that while specific sample sizes and numbers for its data were unavailable, the information for this survey was gathered through national questionnaires and data collected from Mahlabclient and candidate base in the course of the past financial year.

Salaries in private practice in Melbourne 2003/04

The following tables indicate the range of salaries found in top tier, mid tier and small firms.The top tier category also includes some practices with a strong presence in a particular city as well as a limited number of boutique practices.

Top tier firms

Year level

Range

Average

1

$55,000 - $65,000

$60,000

2

$60,000 - $82,000

$72,000

3

$72,000 - $86,000

$85,000

4

$84,000 - $100,000

$90,000

5

$90,000 - $130,000

$112,000

6

$93,000 - $168,000

$120,000

7-10 years

$102,000 - $220,000

$140,000

10 years+

$120,000 - $220,000

$150,000

Mid tier firms

Year level

Range

Average

1

$47,000 - $65,000

$55,000

2

$50,000 - $71,000

$63,000

3

$60,000 - $90,000

$73,500

4

$70,000 - $98,000

$77,000

5

$80,000 - $136,500

$90,000

6

$85,000 - $125,000

$115,000

7-10 years

$95,000 - $160,000

$124,500

10 years+

$102,000 - $200,000

$130,000

Small firms

Year level

Range

Average

1

$35,000 - $50,000

$41,000

2

$40,000 - $55,000

$50,000

3

$45,000 - $75,000

$60,000

4

$60,000 - $75,000

$65,000

5

$60,000 - $90,000

$71,000

6

$70,000 - $110,000

$92,000

7-10 years

$72,000 - $135,000

$125,000

10 years+

$97,500 - $190,000

$135,000

Figures include superannuation but do not include bonuses or other benefits

Corporate salaries in Melbourne 2003/04

Year level

Range

Average

1

$45,000 - $60,000

$55,000

2

$55,000 - $78,000

$75,000

3

$58,000 - $92,000

$85,000

4

$70,000 - $110,000

$93,000

5

$80,000 - $129,000

$105,000

6+

$85,000 - $180,000

$135,000

Deputy general counsel

$110,000 - $225,000

$170,000

General counsel

$110,000 - $500,000+

$235,000

Figures refer to total package including benefits but excluding bonuses and share options

Note: Salary bands in the corporate market tend to be very broad. An individual’s positioning within a band will depend on a number of factors including the background and experience of the individual, size of the organisation and its legal function, industry sector and level of management responsibility within the role.

Jason Silverii

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