A NEW survey conducted by the New South Wales Law Society sheds some light on the trend of lawyers staying in large city law firms and then leaving for the suburbs when they reach their mid-thirties.
The recently released Law Society Practicing Certificate Survey 2005-2006 suggests that large law firms in New South Wales are filled with young lawyers who are likely to leave by the time they reach 35.
Fifty-nine per cent of those working in law firms with more than 20 partners are aged under 35, the survey states. In those firms with between one and four partners, however, only 24 per cent are under this age.
But according to the director of legal recruitment agency Naiman Clarke, Elvira Naiman, these statistics basically say that 41 per cent of people are aged over 35 in the larger firms. “It’s more to do with the structure of law firms and the way that the larger firms are actually leveraged. In firms that have 20 plus partners, there will be at least one solicitor for each partner,” she said.
She argued that if we work on the basis that solicitors are generally aged under 35 and partners are aged over 35, this is not a surprising statistic. “There will of course be partners aged under 35, and some firms will have a larger trend in that direction than others — which is why that skew is not 50/50 but 59/41.”
Smaller firms do not have the same leverage as larger firms, said Naiman. “So they might have two partners and no solicitors or four partners and one solicitor. So they are not leveraged compared to the larger firms. In the large firms they generally work towards a pyramid structure; so one partner, two senior associates, four solicitors. On average one partner will have, as a minimum, one to two solicitors that they directly supervise.”
Older practitioners are more highly represented in smaller firms and many are working as sole practitioners, the survey found. Sixty-one per cent of those working as sole practitioners are over the age of 50.
Naiman said: “In the smaller firms, because they don’t generally have the larger clients, [they are often] just made up of the principal partners and no other solicitors, which throws that statistic out. That whole class of law firms tends to hire fewer solicitors. And so, less solicitors tend to fall in the under-35 age bracket. That is what that statistic is saying.”
As in previous surveys conducted by the Law Society, those lawyers working in the city of Sydney had the youngest age profile. Forty-one per cent of city respondents were under the age of 35, the survey found, compared with only 23 per cent of those working in the suburbs of Sydney.
According to Naiman, this is not surprising considering that “gen X and Y have generally tended towards the larger city firm”. On the other hand, the suburbs tend to attract slightly older solicitors who perhaps have been married, had children and settled down, and have chosen to practice in the suburbs for lifestyle benefits, she said.
As well, “older lawyers tend to ‘retire’ to smaller practices in the suburbs, again for lifestyle reasons,” she said.