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Aussie firms poaching NZ lawyers in talent drought

Aussie firms poaching NZ lawyers in talent drought

A HOT legal recruitment market in Australia is leading recruiters not only to lure New Zealand lawyers across the Tasman, but to intercept them on their return from the UK, say New Zealand…

A HOT legal recruitment market in Australia is leading recruiters not only to lure New Zealand lawyers across the Tasman, but to intercept them on their return from the UK, say New Zealand recruitment consultants.

“Australian firms are poaching our lawyers,” said Carla Wellington of Hughes Castell. “They’re recruiting aggressively down here.”

New Zealanders are also being picked off on their way back from the UK experience. “One of the biggest things that I’m seeing now is that people are coming back to New Zealand and then they’re going off to Australia because the Australian market is very hyped, it’s very busy at the moment, and New Zealand lawyers are in demand,” said Penny Hay, manager of Legal and Accounting Recruitment Ltd.

“The Australian talent shortage is creating huge openings for New Zealand lawyers — especially if they’ve come from London and they’ve got London experience.”

Wellington described how late last year a Dolman employee sent an email to what appeared to be every lawyer in every large firm in New Zealand advertising the company’s facility to recruit people to New York.

But Dolman’s Amanda Bear rejects the idea that poaching is something the recruiting firm should have to justify. “Why would we pretend that we are not searching in New Zealand?” she said. “We have been head hunting New Zealanders, albeit selectively, out of the country for ten years.” The firm regularly places Kiwis in legal firms in the UK, USA, Europe and the Middle East. “It’s an active, buoyant market, and lawyers have to come from somewhere.”

Bear said that the alarm in New Zealand stems from other recruitment companies stepping on the New Zealand bandwagon in the last year or two.

The step-up in poaching comes as New Zealand faces the most stringent talent drought in a decade. “The current talent shortage is the biggest gap I’ve seen between the number of jobs available and the number of candidates available, during the 11 years I’ve been in legal recruitment,” said Legal and Accounting Recruitment’s Hay. “You look at a top-tier firm and it’s still got a list of jobs it’s been trying to fill for six months.”

The shortage itself is nothing new. What is new is the length of time for which New Zealand lawyers are extending their overseas experience.

“The biggest problem is that they don’t just go to London and do two years, they’ve been doing four or five years, and then they come back here as seven- or eight-year qualified lawyers,” Hay said. “There just isn’t the same need for that level of lawyer as there is for the three- to five-year level — hence the gap.”

See the New Zealand Report, starting on page 17.

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