THE LARGEST movement for in-house salaries throughout the country has been enjoyed by Perth’s lawyers, with increases to the minimum and maximum stipend occurring across all levels of experience when compared to last year’s figures.
Perth’s in-house lawyers were between $5,000 to $15,000 better off in 2007 at the lowest end of the salary range, and between $5,000 and $20,000 better off at the highest end, recruit company Hays Legal determined in its 2007 salary survey — putting them much closer to their colleagues in Sydney and Melbourne.
The next biggest move in salaries in 2007 occurred in Melbourne. Increases of between $5,000 to $10,000 were recorded in the salary ranges for those with three or less years of post admission experience (PAE). Sydney experienced similar advances in salary range to Melbourne, but across less PAE levels, the survey said.
Perth, however, was the biggest salary mover. And according to Peter Turner, chief executive officer and general counsel at the Australian Corporate Lawyers Association (ACLA), the shortage of qualified lawyers in Perth is forcing companies to offer higher wages.
“What we have seen as an organisation for some time is that the Western Australian market for in-house lawyers is undergoing a shortage,” Turner said. “There are really more positions out there than can be filled by qualified candidates, and that obviously puts pressure on salaries and conditions. And behind that of course is a resources boom that we’re all aware of, kicked off by demand in China as I understand it.
Hays consultant Ben Carter agreed that jumps in in-house salaries in Perth are no surprise, considering similarly competitive increases to salaries for lawyers working in private practice in Western Australia.
“There are always lawyers interested in going down [the in-house] route so they probably haven’t had the candidate shortages of private practice,” Hays consultant Ben Carter said. “That said, I still think the salaries will continue to increase.”
Turner expects that as long as the resources boom continues, and corporations based in Perth continue to grow and increase their need for legal services, there will be an ongoing need to attract lawyers, particularly those from the eastern seaboard. He said he is aware of at least two in-house lawyers who have moved recently from east to west, though he is sure there are others.
The drain of talented lawyers overseas is helping to increase demand in Perth as well, Turner said,
“There are other opportunities we are all aware these days outside Australia — in London, Dubai, in New York even — for in-house counsel. It’s very hard for a relatively isolated city like Perth to attract good people to come and work there.”
The only change between last year’s and this year’s in-house salaries in Brisbane occurred for lawyers with two years’ PAE. The salary range decreased from $55,000 to $75,000 to $50,000 to $75,000, while all other ranges at different levels of experience remained the same. In New Zealand too, there was no change between salary ranges for in-house between 2006 and 2007.
Turner said the lack of movement in the salary range for in-house lawyers in Brisbane reflected what ACLA was seeing in terms of Queensland membership. However outside of the capital city, there are definite growth areas that Turner believes will be lucrative for counsel who are after a change in lifestyle.
“What we do notice is that the Queensland market … is quite diversified,” he said. “[We] are seeing a lot of people moving to the two coastal regions — the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast — which have become very big areas of their own, and they are attracting a lot of businesses, and very big semi-government, local government organisations as well.
“So there are positions in those areas, with great lifestyles, obviously, that are attracting people, and that won’t necessarily influence the figures in Brisbane.”
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