LAW FIRMS that suppose big pay packets will keep their young lawyers from looking elsewhere have been proven wrong.
Young legal practitioners want satisfying and challenging work in a supportive, flexible environment, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Australian Young Lawyers Committee of the Law Council of Australia.
To retain young lawyers, employers need to supply them with quality legal work and support their desire to have a life outside the office, the results of the survey of 869 young lawyers in their 20s and 30s from across Australia show.
“Contrary to commonly held public perceptions of lawyers, the results suggest that financial rewards and status are not always as important to Australia’s new breed of legal practitioners as job satisfaction and quality of life,” Law Council president Bob Gotterson said.
The survey was an attempt to get a picture of the concerns of young lawyers in this country. Chair of the Committee, Radhika Kanhai, told Lawyers Weekly they wanted to cover career aspirations, what young lawyers of 2004 would be doing in five years time, and different types of lawyers, including private solicitors, government solicitors, in-house lawyers and barristers.
Work-life balance has been a key issue of late, Holding Redlich solicitor Kanhai said. “It has been acknowledged as important and practices are trying to address their attrition rates”. The survey shows that this balance is important to young lawyers, she said.
The results revealed that young lawyers had a very healthy attitude towards their chosen profession, Gotterson said. “To retain young lawyers, employers need to supply them with quality legal work and support their desire to have a life outside the office.”
The survey should be of interest to legal firms because it will help them understand that in order to retain their young lawyers, employers will see they need to give them interesting legal work, Kanhai said. “And they will need to encourage and allow young lawyers to have a life outside work.”
In light of these results, “I think if employers haven’t taken it seriously before, it should be taken seriously now”, Kanhai said.
While the survey revealed that the majority of young lawyers saw themselves practising in five years time, 46 per cent indicated they were considering leaving their current job within the next 12 months. Lack of salary or promotional opportunities were cited as the main reasons.
Work-life balance and quality of work were the primary reasons cited for staying in their current roles. Young lawyers were saying that if they did not get these things, then that would be a reason to leave, Kanhai said.
The majority of respondents to the survey were employed solicitors, making up 52 per cent. Young senior associates made up 13.8 per cent and graduates, government solicitors and public servants 7.9 per cent. Articled clerks comprised 7.3 per cent and barristers and general counsel each made up 5 per cent of respondents.
The majority of young lawyers who responded to the survey worked full time, making up 93.6 per cent. Just over 2 per cent worked four days a week.
Fifty-six per cent earned a taxable income between $30,000 and $59,000 in 2003-04. Expected income for 2004-05 was quite different, and the highest percentage of respondents (18.8 per cent) indicated they expected $50,000 to $59,000.
A significant proportion of respondents (16 per cent) anticipated their 2004-05 taxable income to be $90,000 or above.
A majority (54.8 per cent) indicated that they attend work 41 to 50 hours per week, and a large proportion said they were also expected by employers to work these hours. Almost 30 per cent said that in order to stay on top of their workload they worked three to seven weekends per year.
A large proportion of young lawyers said their job satisfaction was high, although nearly a third also said they were neutral about this question. Workloads and pressures significantly affected young lawyers’ personal relationships, but health and well-being was not a problem for 56.8 per cent of respondents.
A survey conducted by the College of Law has found similar results, but instead related to law students.
In this latter survey, almost 50 per cent of students cited maintaining a balance between their work and life outside work as being extremely important or very important when choosing a future employer.
In this survey, 25 per cent of all respondents said salary was an important consideration when selecting a prospective employer.
“These results clearly show a shift in the thinking of law graduates as they consider their first employed position in the profession,” said Neville Carter, the College of Law’s managing director.