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‘The rise of the suburban lawyer is a shift that will continue to grow’

Lawyers are increasingly making the move to either remote working or suburban practices, with solicitor employment growth growing astronomically in the last decade. Three suburban lawyers share their thoughts on why.

user iconLauren Croft 19 August 2021 Big Law
‘The rise of the suburban lawyer is a shift that will continue to grow’
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Following the release of the fifth annual National Profile of Solicitors report, Lawyers Weekly spoke to three legal executives about why they love working outside of Australia’s main cities and the benefits of doing so.

According to the report, the proportion of suburban lawyers has nearly doubled since 2011, growing by 87 per cent in that time, while regional or rural numbers have only increased by 9 per cent.

Young lawyers (i.e. five years or less PQE) are more likely to be in the city (59 per cent) and less likely to be in suburban areas (30 per cent), compared to the aforementioned two national averages.


Lynn Armstrong, special counsel at Toowoomba-based Best Wilson Buckley Family Law said that she loves the area, and wanted her children to be brought up outside of the city – and said that she can see more and more lawyers looking to work in more suburban areas in the future.

With the higher emphasis on life outside of the workplace, it provides opportunities for lawyers to be less restricted in their living environment and having to be physically closer to the workplace and the Courts,” she said.

“The lawyers can more prominently consider what they need to be a successful lawyer, and the landscape has changed in the last 18 months.”

Michelle Karim, director of Karim Nicol, said that she chose to work at the firm’s Central Coast office as house prices were more affordable than in Sydney.

“The regional areas are thriving with lifestyle opportunities particularly for young families,” she said.

“The rise of the suburban lawyer is a shift that will continue to grow, namely due to the overall population increase in regional areas which will then continue to increase the demand for lawyers. The industry is improving its addressing of wellbeing and mental health management looking favourably upon remote working options.”

With remote working becoming more common due to COVID-19, lawyers are increasingly using digital means to connect with their clients and finding that they can service clients in cities whilst still living in suburban areas.

Clayton Utz special counsel Katherine Mallik currently works remotely for the firm’s Sydney practice from the Hunter Valley, and has done so since 2018, after moving to be closer to her parents and grandparents.

“I grew up in the Hunter Valley and my family still lives here. I moved to Sydney to take up a graduate position with Clayton Utz in 2006 and while I enjoyed living in Sydney, I missed home,” she said.

While I usually work with clients over the phone or via video conference, most of my clients are based in Sydney, Canberra and Brisbane and I do travel to see them when required. I also visit the Sydney office from time to time so that I can catch up with my colleagues face-to-face.

I think that over the last two years, people have really started to appreciate the benefits that come with living in a regional area and the career opportunities that are there for those who do make the move. I’ve spoken to so many lawyers over the last year or so who are looking to move to the country and are excited about the opportunities that such moves offer them.”

The benefits of working in a suburban community include being able to collaborate with other practitioners in the area, according to Ms Armstrong.

“I have a very good relationship and knowledge of the other practitioners in the area. We will often have many matters together and we can usually work collaboratively even while in the Court system,” she said.

“We all know what to expect from each other and what sort of matters may be road blocks in cases given the particular solicitor or firm.”

However, Ms Armstrong added that there can be challenges to working in a suburban area, too.

“When it is a particularly busy court time, or when the courts are requiring personal attendance then the two plus hours of driving each way for Court can be particularly unproductively time consuming,” she said.

“The only other minor issue that we also experience is in respect of subpoena inspections. I am an Independent Children’s Lawyer so there are often many subpoenas that I have coming in at any time. I usually receive leave of the Court to copy and this is often emailed directly to me by the Court, however police subpoena including recorded interviews of children are mostly not provided, and I have to personally attend at Court to view these.”

Similarly, Ms Mallik said that pre-pandemic, having to drive over two hours to see her colleagues was one of the main challenges she experienced, but enjoys the community she gets to be a part of living outside of the city.

“I had been a Rotary exchange student so the first thing that I did when we moved was join my local Rotary club,” she said.

“I’ve really enjoyed being involved in their community programs and fundraising activities, and I’ve also been able to provide legal advice to the club (through Clayton Utz’s pro bono program) for one of their projects. I’ve also joined the local Rural Fire Service brigade.”

In contrast, Ms Karim said that for her, travel into the city hasn’t been too much of an issue and that her commuting time had actually decreased since the move.

“The significant reduction in transit time allows the ability to engage in a number of non-business-related activities which is a significant drawcard to regional practice,” she said.

“Whilst travel into the city is still a necessity at times, the COVID-19 pandemic has created avenues where we may never meet a client in person and have an ability to build a strong relationship of trust through various online digital platforms.”

Ms Karim added that the pandemic has, without a doubt, “reshaped the legal profession” and affected how many lawyers are looking to move to suburban areas.

“Lawyers now have the option to work remotely, they can leave the busy and expensive large cities and move somewhere much quieter and more affordable in pursuit of a better lifestyle,” she said.  

“COVID-19 has added flexibility in how we manage our high level of workload including how far they’re willing to commute. It has broken down the cultural and technological barriers that prevented remote work in the past.”

Lawyers are finding it increasingly easier to work remotely due to COVID-19, which, according to Ms Armstrong, will only increase the number of solicitors practising in suburban areas.

“This has increased due to the need of clients in suburban areas, the costs associated with practices in suburban areas (as opposed to the central business areas in cities), and the increased ability of lawyers to be more mobile in their work. This includes the increased use of telephone and online court work, as well as mediation and collaborative work,” she said.

“Lawyers are finding it easier to use online platforms to see clients while working away from them. The face-to-face aspect of the legal industry has certainly been changed with Covid and this affords suburban lawyers the ability to provide advice to clients a lot further away than we have traditionally.”

Ms Mallik added that cities being locked down could also be influencing lawyers who may want a lifestyle change to move to more suburban areas.

“I think that more people are seeing the lifestyle benefits to living in a suburban or regional area, particularly with the cities in lockdown!” she said.

“I also think that a lot of lawyers who had assumed that they would need to live in a city in order to work in their chosen practice area are realising that, in these days of working from home and video calls, they may not need to.”

And according to Ms Karim, this trend is showing no signs of slowing down.

“I think there is a new generation of experienced lawyers moving towards crafting a career that offers a good work-life balance, and in some way that is made easier with the availability of video appearance,” she said.

“The regional areas have also provided us with an opportunity to tap into new markets of clients consistent with the overall population growth in regional areas.”