While two national surveys have revealed vastly differing hiring intentions from employers, they both show that demand for lawyers is building.
Both the Hudson Report and Australian Industry Group (AIG) National CEO Survey were released today (13 October).
The Hudson Report found that 33.5 per cent of employers plan to increase their permanent staff levels over the October-December 2010 quarter, while the AIG survey reported that three quarters of respondents said they would be looking to hire additional staff in the next one or two years.
The Hudson Report, which provides a sector breakdown of such hiring intentions, found the legal market to be one of the more buoyant sectors of the economy.
It found an increased demand for lawyers and accountants, with sentiment in the professional services industry rising from the July to September last quarter and 52.6 per cent of employers expressing a sentiment to hire this quarter.
In the AIG report, the services sector also recorded stronger profit growth than businesses in the manufacturing and construction sectors
Freehills CEO Gavin Bell told Lawyers Weekly that he is planning to increase the headcount at Freehills in the next few years.
"We didn't participate in the AIG survey, but would have answered yes if asked (to hire more staff)," Bell said, adding that graduate recruitment and lateral hires would both be utilised. "During the GFC we maintained our lawyer numbers, so we are well staffed for the upturn that is coming."
Bell is also confident in the underlying strength of the economy, which would underpin any recruiting strategy, and believes that as confidence builds there will be more commercial activity for law firms to act on.
"I don't pretend to be an economist, but I am positive [about the outlook for the Australian economy]," he said. "We just need a period of stability, and once we have that, there will be a return of confidence and the level of transactions will rise.
"Whether this takes three or nine months is the difficult question."
The Hudson Report surveyed 4,182 employers Australia-wide. It found fewer employers are increasing their staff numbers since last quarter as more decide to hold onto their current headcount.
Since the July-September quarter, the proportion of employers planning to increase their permanent staff levels has declined from 40.6 per cent to 33.5 per cent; the proportion of employers intending to keep their headcount the same has risen from 53.7 per cent to 55 per cent; and the proportion of employers looking to reduce their headcount has increased fractionally from 5.7 per cent to 5.8 per cent.
These results are in stark contrast to the AIG survey which canvassed the opinions of CEOs from 378 businesses, employing nearly 56,000 people. Almost 90 per cent of businesses with annual turnover in excess of $200 million reported an intention to hire, with nearly 77 per cent of CEOs from the services sector intending to add to their headcount.
Just over half of the CEOs surveyed were from manufacturing companies (50.4%), with the services sector (37.1%) and the construction sector (9.1%) also polled.