There are a number of developments in the Australian legal market which are making it an exciting and dynamic market. These include: international tie-ups; the emergence of boutique, top-tier practices; new approaches to billing in response to client demands; outsourcing of legal services and a greater focus on retention of staff to ensure employer competitiveness.
Against this backdrop is our two-speed economy, which has continued to generate work for lawyers in the mining and resources industries, particularly in Perth and Queensland, and the slowdown of business activity on the eastern seaboard, which is impacting on the demand for lawyers and legal services. Uncertainty in Europe over bank and sovereign debt issues and rising unemployment, which is affecting business confidence, is impacting on demand for legal services and hiring activity.
Many legal employers will describe the current market for legal services as “patchy”, busy in some areas and not in others. Consequently, legal employers are keeping a tight rein on spending, debt and costs.
Notwithstanding those factors, demand for quality lawyers, particularly with a focus on mining and energy, corporate, compliance, financial services (with FoFA exposure), and dispute resolution remains healthy. The majority of roles in private practice tend to be for lawyers with junior and senior associate level experience. Partner level roles in the current market invariably require a transportable client base. In-house roles are mostly available for junior legal counsel up to senior legal counsel.
While opportunities for general counsel are available, these roles are limited. In some legal job sectors; finance, construction, manufacturing and aviation, redundancies have occurred. It is expected that the level of redundancies will ease in the latter half of the year as the economy stabilises and improves. It is also anticipated that recruitment activity will increase steadily through the second half of this year.
The international market remains tight and opportunities in London and the US are limited. Australian lawyers are continuing to look for roles overseas and the most attractive destinations remain as Europe (London, Paris, Germany), America (New York, San Francisco) and Asia (Hong Kong, China).
National salary reviews this year will be conservative, although strong performers will be well rewarded. Bonuses in both private practice and in-house will be more prevalent and shall be paid to reward and retain valued performers.
The demand and career opportunities for quality lawyers will only continue to grow. While the Perth and Brisbane markets have shown consistent growth in business activity and recruitment, New South Wales, Victoria and Adelaide have been more subdued, although they are beginning to show some growth as business and employers move forward with cautious optimism.