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IT a hotspot for cashed-up lawyers

LAWYERS BREATHE a sigh of relief: in spite of threats of a global recession, you’re still in demand, with salary movements on the increase and a market that’s pitched to be a profitable one for…

LAWYERS BREATHE a sigh of relief: in spite of threats of a global recession, you’re still in demand, with salary movements on the increase and a market that’s pitched to be a profitable one for lawyers with IT experience.

But as may have been expected, commercial roles in banking and finance may have hit a small rut. According to Kirsty Spears, manager at Hughes-Castell in Sydney, there’s been a slight drop-off in demand for corporate lawyers — a trend, she said, that may reflect back on the current economic situation globally.

It’s not all bad news for local corporate lawyers though: “Transactional roles are quieter, and they’re increasingly looking at local lawyers rather than being open-minded to overseas lawyers,” she said.

But whether the work is not available, or a shift in movement is affecting the area, remains to be seen. According to Stuart Ablethorpe, Victorian legal practice manager at Hudson Legal, competition may be increasing on the local front because of the desire for Australian lawyers to stay put.

“I don’t think there is less work available than there was 12 months ago in Australia,” Ablethorpe said. “I think it’s more that your Clifford Chances, your Slaughters & Mays, aren’t hiring every Australian lawyer 2 to 6 years PQE anymore.

“Because of that decrease in demand for lawyers overseas, there’s less movement happening locally,” Ablethorpe said.

And it seems, the Australian dollar is also playing its role. “The UK is suddenly not as an attractive proposition,” said Ablethorpe. “That’s impacting on earning power a lot. It still is a rite of passage in terms of experience, but it was also being used by junior lawyers to get themselves a deposit on a house.”

Overall however, while fears of a downturn in work sparked by the current global crisis may well come to the surface in the salary surveys of 2009, it’s clear that the salary trend upwards means confidence has not faltered over the last 12 months or so.

In private practice, the 2008 Salary Guide from Hudson Legal found that demand for litigation lawyers, predominantly within insolvency, has hit a competition high among law firms. Construction and property lawyers are also faring well, an increase Hudson expects to see for some time yet.

A similar report from Hays Legal has put the increased overall salary percentage for lawyers at somewhere between three and six per cent. From there, the survey found that 50 per cent of respondents expect permanent staffing levels to increase over the next 12 months, while only 4 per cent are expecting a decrease.

Julie Grasso, team leader and senior consultant at Legal Personnel, said that while they may have seen some movement in the industry, it’s not a total meltdown. “I’ve found that a lot of firms, while they may have stopped recruiting in growth roles, there are still a lot of essential roles they need to fill,” she said.

Meanwhile somewhere in the resources or technology industries is a good place to be. Hudson found an increased demand for in-house roles within the IT sectors over the last six months, while a strong demand for in-house roles in the mining and resources sectors in Perth and South Australia continued to promote competition for lawyers in the two-to-five year PQE category.

Given the rapid growth pace of the IT industry sector, Ablethorpe believes technology lawyers are well placed for the future. “With IT, you’ve obviously got a lot of start-ups and a lot of growing that’s keeping demand up,” he said.

The opportunities in technology are also varying in size, nature and workload within in-house roles. “You can go anywhere from a company with a few hundred people to an international company with 30,000 people,” he said.

“There is also more demand for part time IT lawyers than there is for, say, part-time property lawyers.”

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