Australia Migration – Legal career opportunities

Since the introduction of the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, there has been a free flow of people between New Zealand and Australia. This arrangement allows New Zealand and Australian citizens to enter into each other’s countries to live and work without needing a visa. Historically, these migration flows have been largely in both directions. However, in more recent times, New Zealand has been losing more people to Australia than it gains. StatsNZ estimated that the number of people who migrated from New Zealand to Australia amounted to 31,300 in June 2019. While this number is half of the peak that we saw in 2012 – 62,800 – with the Trans-Tasman bubble reopening next month, net migration to Australia will inevitably increase. 

The Australian Legal Market

As travel restrictions ease, many of those choosing to permanently relocate to Australia are NZ-qualified lawyers. Some lawyers have had to put their plans on hold for the last two years. While others have used this time to their advantage, developing their skills in particular areas with the forethought of heading overseas. 

Skilled workforce shortages present one of the most critical challenges to Australia and top-tier and mid-tier Australian law firms are continuing to rely on international recruitment to meet their needs. We are seeing hotspots in the Australian market where demand is high for Kiwi lawyers, in particular:

  • Litigation, especially in Commercial, Back-end Construction and Insurance including Cyber and Financial Lines.
  • Corporate M&A.
  • Banking and finance.
  • Environment and planning.
  • TMT, Cyber, IT, Digital, Privacy.
  • Property.
  • Employment.
  • Front End Construction, Projects, Planning & Infrastructure.
  • Government.

Kiwi lawyers who possess a specialist skillset, for instance, Procurement or Workplace Relations are also in hot demand in Australia. 

Significant shortages across all specialisms

While it is not surprising that Sydney and Melbourne are the drivers of this demand, we have seen exceptional opportunities arise in Brisbane, Canberra, Cairns, and Perth. Canberra in particular is a rapidly growing location, as firms expand their practices wanting to build up their government law offering with major hires in this area. 

The Australian market is also seeing significant shortages of mid-to-senior level lawyers across all specialisms. Many firms we have spoken to are finding it difficult to retain staff around this level. This, in turn, creates a significant demand for Kiwi lawyers within the 2-6 year PQE bracket. 

Salary trends are experiencing a strong upturn and we are seeing record-level salary offers especially in those hotspot skill areas. 

Between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, and Canberra, salaries within mid-tier and top-tier firms hardly differ. National firms have an equal pay policy across locations. Because of this, we are seeing an increase in relocation offers and sign-on bonuses to attract top talent. 

For NZ qualified lawyers, we are predicting 2022 to be a great year for opportunities across Australia and we are already seeing candidates preparing for a move in 2023. 

Practical tips for Kiwi lawyers considering Australia migration

Before making solid plans on a move across the Tasman there are a couple of things Kiwi Lawyers need to keep in mind. 

What area of expertise do I want to specialise in and will my skills transfer? Workstreams especially in Sydney will be narrower than those in NZ.

Will my experience stand up to the work that is being completed in Australia? Does my current firm have brand recognition across the ditch? You should be able to evidence a list of important matters, deals, transactions, or files you have worked on. They will be required if you are to be considered for roles in top-tier and mid-tier firms. If not, gaining more experience with complex matters or working autonomously on smaller projects will ensure you have a better shot at getting hired in Australia.

If you are considering a move to Australia in 2022 or 2023 and would like some advice on anything mentioned in this article, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Lisa Gray at lgray@tylerwren.co.nz