Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Law, Life Style and Legal Salaries in Australia

Marsha Jacobs in the Australian Financial Review (3 August) alerted me to the fact that Mahlab Recruitment had released its Australian annual legal salary survey. The material that follows is drawn from Marsha's article. You can find the full survey here. It is free, but you will need to register.

In an earlier post I referred to a report suggesting that Australian graduate starting salaries had been declining in real terms with a median starting salary for law graduates of $42,000. I also commented that there appeared to be a growing reluctance among professional services firms to employ raw graduates, targeting instead those with some experience. This was beginning to create a chicken and egg problem.

The Mahlab survey found that salary bands rose by nearly 5 per cent nationally over the last year. High performers received salary increases of more than 20 per cent as well as bonuses. This represented the largest increase in seven years.

Average salary increases were highest in Perth (up 9 per cent) because of the mining boom. Then came Sydney (+6.4 per cent), Melbourne (+5.3 per cent), with Brisbane lagging (+4.7 per cent).

Average salaries for corporate lawyers with five years experience ranged from $125,000 in Perth and Brisbane, $128.000 in Melbourne, $150,000 in Sydney.

Average salaries in the top-tier firms for those with five years experience were noticeably lower: $96,000 in Brisbane, $110,000 in Perth, $120,000 in Melbourne and $125,000 in Sydney.

Partner salaries rose by an average of nearly 11 per cent over the last year. Here the range in the average in top-tier firms was $795,000 Brisbane, $805,000 Perth, $1,028,500 Melbourne and $1,084,000 Sydney. However, partners were having to work harder to earn their money.

In this context, the report suggests that you need to have a minimum practice of $2 million to make partner in a top-tier firm, $1.2 to million in a mid-tier firm, $700,000 to $900,000 in a small firm.

Attrition rates among young lawyers continued to be high. Many of those leaving firms were going in-house or overseas where Australian trained lawyers remained in demand. UK was still the number one international destination, although New York was increasing in importance.

Despite record level partner recruitment, the trend among younger lawyers against the partner option continued to increase. The proportion of young lawyers interested in partnerships is now 42 per cent, down almost 14 per cent from the previous year.

Work/life balance was cited as the single most important factor in increasing job satisfaction.

There is a real issue here that I see in my own daughters (ages 17 and 19) and their friends. They are prepared to work hard, certainly they are interested in money, but they are simply not ambitious in career terms in the way that I was. Life is more than work and success.

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