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‘The more you get paid, the more you need to deliver’

Whilst different external and environmental factors can increase legal salaries, legal recruitment partner Alison Crowther said that this doesn’t often come for free.

user iconLauren Croft 12 October 2022 Big Law
‘The more you get paid, the more you need to deliver’
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Speaking recently on an episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, produced in partnership with Empire Group, where she’s a partner, Ms Crowther spoke about legal recruitment trends she’s currently seeing — and how these differ in different jurisdictions along the Australian east coast.

Empire recently released its 2022 legal salary guide, which the company puts together every year. The group looked into three jurisdictions: Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.

“One of the things that I think that I’m facing, because I work in Brisbane, so I can probably talk about that with the most knowledge, is that, not the junior lawyer level, but that kind of mid-level; there’s just really a real need in that level, but a real lack of people wanting to leave,” she said.


“So, I think there’s definitely, in that space, there’s really a lot of people who would be saying, ‘What’s the point of moving? I’m not moving for 5k. I’m not moving for 10k. I might consider a 25k uplift, but not for something minimal.’ So, that’s driving salaries in that space up, to actually get people to consider that move. So that’s one of the things I’ve seen, and there is a real lack of people at that level.”

In addition, different external and environmental factors can have an impact on salary trends, particularly projects leading up to the 2032 Olympic Games.

“Obviously, there’ll be a lot of infrastructure. There’ll be a lot of government projects. There’ll be projects that will come out of that, and that will definitely drive that in the city. So, that’s a positive; that’s a great thing for Brisbane. Brisbane’s continuing to grow. Property prices, we’re starting to come up to match the rest of the country, and I think salaries here are increasing,” Ms Crowther explained.  

“They are still a little behind the southern states, but I think the gap is getting a little bit less, which is good to see. And, of course, there’s still quite a number of candidates that live here but work in Sydney. There is that, and that does exist, and more and more candidates are actually doing that as well, and maybe moving to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast because what a great place to live. If you can live there, get a Sydney salary and just do a couple of commutes, that’s not a bad situation to live in.”

In terms of the Sydney market, it has been quite a “candidate-short” period, as lockdown drove a dry market, according to Ms Crowther, who said a number of private practice lawyers also looked at in-house roles.

“I think anyone who changed jobs in a lockdown, five stars for attempting that, because I think it’s probably one of the hardest things that you would ever do in terms of joining a new company where you can’t actually physically often meet people. So, I think that drove the market to be a little bit quiet,” she noted.

“I [also] think sometimes candidates have this perception, ‘If I go in-house, I will be able to leave work every day early, and I’ll be less stressed.’ And sometimes that’s not always the case because in-house can be less-resourced, broader experience required, potentially also working in areas of law that you haven’t before. 

“So, it is a skill to go in-house, and it is a little bit different than being in private practice, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will always do less hours. In fact, I think I’ve seen in-house teams now be under more pressure and probably putting out more work from an in-house team than they ever have before.”

Similarly, the Melbourne market also experienced a downturn as a result of increased lockdowns, with a lot of young lawyers moving to other markets.

“I think a lot of young lawyers that might have moved to Melbourne for a great opportunity, ended up in a one-bedroom unit on their own working in a lockdown that was just incredibly lengthy, probably high-tailed it out of Melbourne and went back to either Sydney or Brisbane. But I think Melbourne’s starting to rebuild itself again now, and with that goes exactly what we’re seeing in the other regions. There are still those shortages; salaries are increasing,” Ms Crowther added.

“The other observation I’d make, and this is probably more for junior lawyers as well. But if you go from earning 85k to 90k, let’s say, as a junior, and you join and you get an uplift to 121k, 125k, and it’s Christmas, because that’s a nice increase for anyone, [but] there’s going to be that increased pressure to be able to return at that salary level. The more you get paid, the more you need to deliver. It’s not just a gift. It’s something that you’re getting because they’re going to need you to return that to the firm.”

However, in terms of whether the Sydney and Melbourne legal recruitment markets are in for a rebound in the coming months, Ms Crowther said that it’s a fairly hard trend to predict.

“In some ways, it is hard to predict. But I think anytime where you are held back from doing whatever you need to be doing, and businesses being held back, there’s always going to be that resurge [sic]. It’s like being set free, isn’t it? That we can now go hard at this and we can do this,” she added.

“And the market, it is really coming at everyone. There’s opportunity everywhere. There are definitely firms that are struggling to meet the work that’s coming through the door because of lack of resources internally. So, I can’t see that changing. I see that continuing.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Alison Crowther, click below: