With legal recruitment retracting around the world, Janina McMahon looks at how the in-house market in Perth - a fast-growing resources-rich State with a low unemployment rate - has been affected.
As in other Australian capital cities, Perth's legal recruitment market has contracted. While 2008 saw a number of inaugural legal counsel appointed, newly created roles and team expansions, there is now an air of caution across the market, with only critical in-house roles being recruited. This contraction, however, is expected to be temporary.
With many companies seeking to justify their costs, more legal work is being kept in-house, creating a busy workload for lawyers. In Perth, this busy workload looks set to continue, and in some industries, is likely to increase.
Perth is home to many large resources companies' head offices or significant branch offices. For example, in the oil and gas industry, big operators with legal teams in Perth include BHP Billiton, Chevron, Shell and Woodside.
Such companies are involved in long-term major projects. One example is the Gorgon gas project,which is expected to gain official approval this year. Given the longer term nature of such (oil and gas) projects, the current downturn is considered to be of less relevance in this state than others. In the meantime, these projects will require considerable ongoing legal input and support.
In addition, such projects require the services of contractors in other industries such as engineering, procurement, construction, management and civil construction. There are a number of local in-house legal teams in these related industries who are also correspondingly busy.
As a consequence, it appears that any contraction in the Perth in-house legal recruitment market may not be sustained. In recognising the opportunities that a downturn inevitably brings, some companies are already planning to take on an additional in-house lawyer.
This will enable them to bolster their future in-house capability on major projects at the same time as reducing their external legal spend and capitalising on the availability of top talent in the market.
Janina McMahon is a senior consultant at Hudson Legal's Perth office. She will be speaking on global and local in house recruitment trends at ACLA's annual Corporate Counsel day in Perth on 27 May.
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