Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

Grads’ salaries are currently inflated by 20 to 30%

Not only are law graduates seeing significant salary hikes for their entry-level roles, with some receiving up to $107,000, but they are also, recruiters say, actively seeking such bloated pay packets. 

user iconJess Feyder 17 February 2023 Big Law
expand image

Without question, candidates applying to work in legal services roles are seeking more than just salary as part of their vocational development. For those entering the profession, however, a high salary is clearly still a non-negotiable. 

There are certainly indications that high salaries — such as at the associate level — may be slowing down in the near future, even amid talk about whether “loyalty taxes” could be paid to employees.

According to legal recruiters across the country, the next generation of legal professionals have been unafraid as of late to ask for the moon — and, in many cases, are getting it. 

 
 

“Firms have the workload, and they need the personnel on the ground to grow,” explained Jesse Shah, director at nrol.

“Compared to what [grads] were getting pre-COVID, from an entry-level salary, a conservative approach would be to say they’re getting at least 25 to 30 per cent more.

“It’s a big jump.”

This is being seen predominantly in firms that work within the commercial space — in corporate litigation, mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance, there are “massive hikes”, he went on.

In the areas of insurance, family law and criminal law, personal injury law, grad salaries have stayed comparatively stable, with hikes of around 10 per cent, Mr Shah noted. 

“Firms that have incredible names in the market, the top tier, have been able to maintain their salary models because they have the name and reputation,” he said, “but firms in the mid-tier firms especially are boosting their salaries to attract talent”.

Chad Weerasinghe, associate director at recruitment company Beacon Legal, shared his insights with Lawyers Weekly: “Over the past 18 months, the legal market experienced the most significant rate of growth since the post-GFC era.”

Law firms have been affected significantly by a skills shortage and are offering substantially higher salaries to attract talent across all levels, Mr Weerasinghe continued.

He echoed the figures seen by Mr Shah, noting a “20 per cent increase in graduate salaries across firms in Australia”.

He detailed that remuneration being offered to graduates at top firms, including superannuation, was $103,000 to $107,000 in Sydney, $95,000 to $103,000 in Melbourne, and $80,000 to $86,000 in Brisbane. 

Belinda Fisher, partner at Burgess Paluch Legal Recruitment, commented: “Like all salaries for lawyers nationally, [grad salaries] have been driven to their highest level by the strongest Australian legal market in history. 

“[Grad salaries] increased in 2022 and will no doubt remain high for the foreseeable future.

“Some graduates are currently earning approximately [$85,000 to $95,000] … [and] are expecting increases of $10,000.”

Ms Fisher noted that this stark increase in salary could also be in part due to demand issues created during the pandemic.

“Many of our clients put their graduate intakes on hold in 2020, which meant there was greater demand in 2021 and 2022,” she explained. 

Firms are especially interested in attracting grads who have prior experience to their firm, Mr Shah and Ms Fisher both noted.

Graduate salary expectations

When asked whether law grads are asking for salaries much higher than what they used to be asking for, Mr Shah responded, “100 per cent”.

“The expectation is higher than it used to be in comparison with graduates from years before. 

“Their mindset is slightly more inflated than what it should be,” he posited.

“It’s really important for graduates to manage their expectations and make sure they understand the reality of what is expected of them with these higher salaries.”

“The firms that are offering those higher salaries might not really be a good place to learn, because you’re thrown straight into the deep end. It comes with a lot more pressure, a higher speed of learning, and greater expectancy.

“Whereas firms [that] have more realistic salary levels often offer better opportunities to learn, they give more time to train and mentor, and less is expected from a delivery standpoint.”

“The money will come,” stated Mr Shah, and “graduates need to focus on opportunities, experience, and development, rather than salary”.

Ms Fisher commented: “Graduates are coming into a market where salaries are at their highest level ever, and have that expectation for salaries to remain high.

“However, the forecasted recession will affect this moving forward.”

How BigLaw firms can respond

Amber Matthews, Australia managing partner at DLA Piper, discussed how this is playing out from the vantage point of the firm.

“The legal industry has experienced upward pressure on salaries for the past two years, and this has extended to graduate lawyer salaries. 

“All firms are trying to recruit from the same graduate talent market, and with law firms experiencing strong workflow in recent years, graduates are in high demand,” she told Lawyers Weekly. 

“There is strong competition for Australian law graduates locally and globally.”

“Graduates are asking for a market-competitive salary, and their expectations are rising, but it’s not all about the money. 

They are also looking for a great workplace culture which offers strong career development and unique opportunities, like international secondments.