Brian Rollo told Lawyers Weekly that given that there are, proportionately, only a small number of lawyers in-house for each company (apart from the largest), if projects start to dry-up the drop from a modest number of in-house roles to very few won’t take long.
“It will be a little while yet before we can tell what kind of impact [a slowdown] will have, but you would think that if those predictions turn out to be correct then Brisbane and Perth will feel the effects more than the other cities,” said Rollo.
Last week, Resources Minister Martin Ferguson told the press that the boom in commodity prices was over. The next day, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Glenn Stevens, predicted the nation’s mining investment boom has at least another year before easing.
“The peak of the resource investment boom as a share of gross domestic product, the highest such peak in at least a century, will occur within the next year or two,” he told lawmakers in Parliament.
These comments came off the back of BHP Billiton’s decision last week to delay an estimated $33 billion expansion of the Olympic Dam copper, uranium and gold mine in South Australia. This move, along with Origin Energy reducing spending targets and Rio Tinto reporting declining profits, has sparked suggestions the resources boom that has powered Australia’s economic growth is over.
“Lets hope that turns out not to be the case or that it’s a more gentle slowdown than predicted,” said Rollo, who admitted he hasn’t yet noticed any mining slowdown effect in-house roles.
At the moment, Rollo said work is still coming in from top and mid-tier law firms and in-house in sectors such as energy and resources, construction, government, wealth management, technology and professional services.
“In-house M&A roles are rare at the best of times – most of the roles we are recruiting for are generalist corporate commercial roles or are specialist to the industries that are still hiring, for example, construction and technology,” he said.
The number of available legal roles in the banking sector has been flat-lining for a sustained period of time stretching back to early 2011, said Rollo.
He explained that, generally, in-house legal teams in banks are not really growing.
“Most of the roles we have seen are mainly ad-hoc, business-critical replacement hires. It seems very difficult for in-house teams to get the authorisation they need to hire,” he said.
Despite most of the in-house work in Brisbane and Perth being in mining, resources and construction and projects, Rollo said it was difficult to analyse how Sydney and Melbourne are faring in comparison as both cities have a much larger scale of in-house jobs given their size and the number of different companies that are headquartered there.