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The next 3 years will be ‘a weird time’ in the legal market

Following a busy promotions and salary review period, the next few months – as well as the next few years – are likely to continue to be a busy time within legal recruitment as candidates explore their options and firms struggle to retain talent.

user iconLauren Croft 14 July 2023 Big Law
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As the high salaries of last year – such as at the associate level – have been revealed to be slowing down in the near future, and with more lawyers likely to be disappointed following their salary reviews this year, firms will be doing more and more to keep their staff.

However, according to the director of Naiman Clarke, Elvira Naiman, this doesn’t negate the fact that many lawyers will be looking to jump ship, weighing up bonus schemes, parental leave and other perks and benefits, as well as which firms are actually following through on initiatives.

Speaking on a recent episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show, produced in partnership with Naiman Clarke, Ms Naiman said as salaries in law are unlikely to be as bloated as they were last year, the next few months will be a busy period as candidates are more likely to start exploring their options.


According to Ms Naiman, there are currently three types of candidates she’s seeing.

“There are those that are moving because they need to move. They’re not enjoying life at their firm. They’re not getting the right work. They’re not getting the right mentorship. They’re not getting on with their partner or the group, and they’re just on the market to move. Obviously, salary becomes a consideration, but it’s not the primary one.

“The other type of candidate is a ‘yes, I do want to move, but I won’t move until I know what my current firm looks like.’ And then the third one is anticipating a review of a particular number and trying to already go to the market and exceed that number. We’re finding that third group difficult to manage largely because in those discussions, what’s born out is that they really do have an expectation that, well, I’m going to go up another 20 per cent at my current firm, so I’m actually looking for a 25 per cent increase.”

Following mammoth end-of-financial-year (EOFY) promotions and a busy legal review period, the next two months will be the busiest time for legal recruitment.

“July and August tend to be the busiest times of the month in recruitment. And that is largely because through that review process, people sort of aren’t happy, and they decide to go to the market to see what else is out there. I think in any year, there’s a larger volume of candidates that will come into the market straight after that review period,” Ms Naiman explained.

“And we’ll always find it kind of interesting because they’ve sometimes been given a great review, but they still want more to move and look. And that certainly works for some candidates. So, there’s always, I think, a bit of a situation for employers where they need to fill more roles during that sort of July to September period.”

Therefore, in order to retain staff, firms will – and have been – providing additional incentives and benefits, such as free gym memberships and food or bonus structures.

“I think sometimes it comes down to the feeling of appreciation. Sometimes lawyers just want to know that they’re doing a good job, that their partner or partners appreciate the effort and appreciate the work that they’re doing, and that they’re also learning and growing. So, it’s such a personal thing. And obviously, if you’re a law firm of 1,200 practising certificates, it’s very hard to get that individualistic piece right,” Ms Naiman added.

“But look, law firms that have always, regardless of size, I think, try to meet the lawyer’s expectations. Not that long ago, we placed a young mom at a very well-considered mid-tier firm, and she needed two-hour breaks in the middle of the day to go and feed her six-month-old baby. And that was factored into the contract. And it’s probably that kind of example that really says to me that law firms have become organisations that tend to cater to the individual needs of their employees. And some firms get it right a lot of the time, and some firms just don’t. And that is what it is.”

But following the promotions and review period, Ms Naiman predicted that a lot of legal candidates would “come out of the woodwork” to see if they can get a better deal elsewhere – often without actually leaving their current role.

“They go out. They test the market. I call it a bit of a tyre-kicking exercise, you know, walk on top, kick some tyres. But I think, ultimately, firms will try to keep the lawyers that they don’t want to lose. So, some may not like that their lawyer’s gone out to the market to test the market and has come back to say, ‘Well, I can get an extra $10,000,’ and some may be prepared to lose that employee over that situation,” she said.

“Some will just counteroffer. So, I think it is going to be a bit of a weird time in the legal market over the next three years, particularly as it’s then reflected in what might be happening in the Australian and global economy during that period anyway, because there’s at least two more sort of anticipated interest rate increases. Who knows what happens to the globe in the next sort of four months? So, it’ll be an interesting time for all. That’s for sure.”

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