THE VAST differences in pay that lawyers receive in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and internationally are representative of the amount of work they do, according to the general manager of Hays ZMB.
While a private practice lawyer in Sydney with one year’s experience will receive between $57,000 and $68,000, a lawyer with the same qualifications in Brisbane will only receive between $49,000 and $60,000.
Although this appears to be a vast disparity, it is small compared to what a lawyer in the US, with the same qualifications, will receive. In New York, for example, a lawyer with one year’s experience will receive an average of US$125,000 ($174,000) per year.
Kristine Luke, general manager of Hays ZMB, said Sydney is at the “top of the pile” in Australia because of the nature of the market. There is more business activity driven out of Sydney, the heads of the financial industry are based in that city and there is more opportunity to pay “top dollars”.
By the same token, in Brisbane there is more of a work/life balance, Luke said. That city did not have the corporate activity to justify the high salaries of Sydney. Melbourne was between the two. Lawyers in New York, meanwhile, are paid so much because “they work around the clock on million dollar transactions”, and there is no work/life balance. Nevertheless, she said Australian lawyers are still attracted to the US.
Although money is not the number one driver for lawyers today, it is in the top five reasons to move to the US, Luke said. “I think it depends on lawyers’ personal circumstances — a lot of people cannot justify putting in those hours if they have personal commitments.”
Although New York is attractive financially, London is more appealing to Australians wanting to work overseas, according to Hays ZMB. London is an excellent base to see Europe, London lawyers are paid well, it is English speaking and the firms usually offer quality work, Luke said. Additionally, if lawyers work in London and then come back to Australia, “it’s easy for them to slot into law firms locally”.
The Asia Pacific is attractive to some Australian lawyers, but there are practical problems related to working in Hong Kong, for example. “We do place people there, but the opportunity is limited because of the language barrier”, Luke said. There are less roles for non-Asian speaking candidates.
Additionally, if people are moving overseas for a life experience, they usually want to go somewhere far away, Luke said. London is appealing in this respect, and a lot of Australian lawyers have UK passports and contacts.
New Zealand held less appeal for Australian lawyers. However, the country’s local firms and Australian firms were interested in NZ candidates because NZ law firms provided good experience. Australian firms are open to taking on NZ lawyers, “whose excellent skills and knowledge are recognised”, Luke said.
“We have placed a number of lawyers into Australian firms from NZ, and similarly we have placed a lot of NZ lawyers overseas, to London and the Asia Pacific.”
Internationally, there was no real difference between the treatment of Australian and NZ lawyers. “The quality of firms they come from, their technical experience and their good academic records will get their foot in the door internationally.” As well, lawyers with between two and five years’ experience are most attractive to firms overseas; they prefer lawyers not to be too experienced, she said.