Firstly, where did 2022 go? It feels like just the other day we were writing about 2021 and the year that was. 2022 continued in a similar direction; there was a focus on work life balance, salaries increasing, and Lawyers heading off overseas. Last year we saw many changes in the legal job market – a slow-down in property transactions meant general practice firms pivoted into other areas of private client work, including a focus on Wills, Estates, EPOI and Trust reviews, whereas the top-tiers, mid-tiers and boutiques maintained their appetite to hire whilst still losing people to overseas, in particular Australia and the United Kingdom.

In July 2022 we released our Legal salary guide. One week later a handful of top-tier and mid-tier firms all announced they were giving their staff a 7% increase in pay to combat the increasing cost of living. The rest of the year followed suit, with firms increasing salaries 10% – 20% more than our salary guide suggested, which was already a huge increase from 2021. It was refreshing to hear from other recruiters and our direct competitors that our salary guide was the best one on the market, and the most accurate when released. We were then the first to admit it was out of date.

 As an overview, towards the end of 2022 we have seen:  

  • Employees have had a lot of buying power when it comes to salary reviews. We have had many Lawyers connect with us seeking market advice prior to their salary reviews. They are aware the market is moving incredibly quickly. They are keen to ensure they are placed well and not left behind their colleagues securing new jobs.
  • Corporate and Banking and Finance Lawyers between two & six years experience are continuing to be the most in demand and being paid accordingly. We have seen some Lawyers gaining a NZ$35,000 pay rise when moving roles.
  • Queenstown Law Firms have become increasingly competitive. Paying above the Auckland Law firms for relocation to attract talent to the area.
  • In terms of Australia, the salaries differ significantly between general practice. Mid-tier and top-tier, and do not differ too much between the regions. Australia law firms are also paying between AUD$20k & AUD$40k more than New Zealand law firms for the same level of PQE and offering 10% super in addition to salaries.
  • Salary reviews are also being offered within the first six months of new employment.
  • Sign-on bonuses and relocation packages are being used to make offers more appealing – however, this is often a tactic used when an offer has hit a ceiling at the top of the firm’s banding.
  • Counter-offers are still being heavily used in the market – however most Lawyers are turning them down as they are changing roles for reasons other than $$.  Most commonly, people are looking for new roles due to the culture, or lack of, at their current firm.

Changes in the legal job market

A major transformational change over the past few years has been in workplace culture. This has been a focal point of 2022. Burnout, stress, and demanding workloads are becoming a thing of the past. Retention of staff becomes a priority as the market tightens up and employees are in a stronger position to ask for what they want.

  • The most common demand we are seeing from candidates is for flexible working policies. Whether this be reduced hours, work from home policies, or general flexibility.
  • While salaries across the firms seem to be pretty benchmarked we are seeing significant differences in the hours in contracts. They vary from 37.5, 40 and 45 hours for a full time permanent position.
  • Firms are willing to let people go to fulfill other ambitions, including travel. They are keeping the door open to hopefully welcome them back further down the line. We are seeing firms offering secondments in-house, and also sabbaticals for Lawyers to head overseas. (Including extended time off and the option for three months remote work from Europe once the travel has concluded).

Other observations on the changes in the legal job market include: 

  • An interest in maternity leave, with some law firms increasing their leave entitlement packages for primary carers to 26 weeks. Some firms are promoting Lawyers during their maternity leave. Others are having Partners return back to part-time hours.
  • In the past, in-house legal was considered an easy option to practice law and less prestigious than working in a law firm. Those days are long gone. In-house legal roles are well sought after. We are seeing corporates hire at a range of levels and with different skillsets. 
  • We have seen the New Zealand top-tiers flexing a little in terms of who they would hire into their teams. There was still an emphasis on University Transcripts but a more open approach to consider smaller transactional experience. A sensitivity towards personality and potential was also noticeable. These firms tend to have Partners that have experienced barriers to employment. This may be due to their own grades, or because they value other skills more highly than transcripts. 

Thriving legal market

2022 has seen a shift in that Lawyers are a lot more aware of their value and how strong the market is from their side of the fence. They are utilising this buying power to create an environment that they want to be in with the top files, top clients, largest salary, and incredible benefits.  The legal jobs market has thrived during the last two years. We see no slowdown in terms of demand across the New Zealand or Australian markets. It’s a great time to be an employee with such a large number of roles out there in the market. We are seeing people securing roles that would normally be out of their reach. As well as benefiting from significant increases to their salaries and/or moving for different locations and/or benefits.

If you are considering your career goals and thinking of a move in 2023, get in touch for a confidential chat to better understand and utilise the current market. Reach out to discuss how The Tyler Wren team can help you today or in the future!

Stevie Doubleday | sdoubleday@tylerwren.co.nz | 09 930 9828.

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