THANKS IN part to a recent saturation on prime-time TV, Australia’s property stocks continue to soar despite warnings that the bubble may burst sooner rather than later.
But while the torso hugging tees worn by attractive hosts of programs such as ‘The Block’ and ‘DIY Rescue’ have undoubtedly glamourised property, the sector still struggles for appeal amongst lawyers.
Newly admitted commercial practitioners have been attracted enmasse to more alluring areas such as M&A and litigation, leaving those operating in a buoyant property market in record high demand.
The property boom has led to firms and their recruitment mercenaries scrambling over one another to secure what sparse talent there is available.
Emma Crean, who works in Melbourne-based Abbott Stillman & Wilson’s property division, receives up to four or five calls a week from headhunters.
“There’s just no junior property lawyers around,” she said. “Property is still viewed as a bit of a backwater because there is a perception that it lacks the intellectual rigour of sexier areas like M&As and commercial litigation.”
Crean jokes that the volume of overtures extended in her direction have made her a recruitment barometer of sorts.
“It does get frustrating, absolutely,” she said in relation to her army of suitors. “I don’t know how they get my number, and I get worried about receiving calls from recruiters at work.”
Yet despite being somewhat flattered by all the attention, Crean is just one of many young lawyers in the field who won’t budge.
Which is bad news for firms on the lookout to expand in order to sate growing files. National property head at Middletons, Justin Lethlean, laments the difficulty his firm faces to bulk up. He believes that while candidates are available, the right ones are few and far between.
“Most of the young lawyers who were recruited over the past five years are now reaching senior associate or partner stage and they are nervous about moving because we are not in a boom market now. People are risk adverse,” he said. “A couple of staff have been approached, but fortunately none have left. In saying that, we too are in the process of actively recruiting.”
After himself making the switch to Middletons from fellow property powerhouse Arnold Bloch Leibler less than a year ago, Lethlean felt that “added incentives” were par for the course for lateral hires.
“You’ve got to up the ante in terms of salary, absolutely,” said Lethlean, who also cited his promotion to national practice group head as one reason for his recent move.
In the absence of satisfactory success externally, Lethlean realises the focus must be concentrated in-house.
“A lot of how we grow will depend on how property is sold internally. Firms need to emphasise that property law is exciting. Most of the large corporate transactions contain a significant property element and lawyers will end up working alongside their property department.”
Concurring with Crean’s observations regarding the lack of appeal, Lethlean felt that universities handled the subject in a manner that was “too dry and theoretical”.
He said graduates, provided they fitted the bill in terms of their academic achievement and cultural fit, stood to “differentiate” themselves when applying for articled clerkships by registering an interest in property law.