New Zealand’s larger law firms are still competitively recruiting as younger lawyers continue to head off overseas, according to legal recruiter Lisa Gray.

She says the top tier firms are struggling to find talent in areas such as mergers and acquisitions, property, and banking and financial services. This is resulting in offers of salaries which are above traditional bandings and benefits.

Gray, founder and partner of Tyler Wren, has noticed a few firms more sensitive to economic change, brought about by a slowdown of the housing market and other external factors. While demand is still strong from firms with international clients, there is some news of a cooling-off.

“One thing for sure is that the New Zealand market is still being impacted by

New Zealand lawyers heading off to the UK and Australia,” she says.

Last month Tyler Wren released its latest Legal Salary and Benefits Guide. For the first time this provided information on salaries and benefits in Australian centres as well as for New Zealand’s main legal centres.

The guide showed that remuneration at Auckland top-tier and boutique law firms was around 75 per cent of that in Sydney.

Australian options

Gray now specialises in the Australian legal recruitment market. She says there is a large demand for lawyers in Australia, with many firms willing to pay relocation bonuses and sign-on bonuses along with highly attractive salaries and other support.

“Australian firms definitely have an appetite in the M&A, banking and finance, property, litigation, employment, TMT, IP, construction and insurance sectors, but not as much in the GP space,” she says.

Gray says she feels that Australian-based recruiters have enough people to talk to locally and tend to focus on those placements rather than candidates that are offshore.

In a recent post on jobs in Australia for foreign-qualified lawyers, she noted that large firms are still interested in reviewing university transcripts and look for large transaction, large file or large client management experience.

She says all need good communication skills and all want to know the reason for the move to Australia, with firms comfortable with protracted start dates as long as contracts are signed.

Hanging on to staff

With Australia, the UK and other jurisdictions looking increasingly attractive, New Zealand firms look like having a battle to retain staff. Gray notes that just a year ago Australian firms would want lawyers with a minimum of two years post qualification experience.

“Recently I have seen lawyers secure roles with three months’ experience in top firms.”

She says as New Zealand firms fight back in talent retention the market is seeing more creative benefits, with higher salaries being paid and a lot more time spent selling firms’ cultures and career pathways.

“Some firms are even offering two-year contracts, then an introduction to an

Australian affiliate firm or overseas connections.”

UK presence

At least one New Zealand firm is ensuring it is a visible employment option. A post on Simpson Grierson’s LinkedIn channel advises that during July partner James Hawes will be in London “interviewing for the legal roles we have across all practice areas and levels of our firm”.

“Even if you’re not thinking of coming to New Zealand for another couple of years, James can talk to you about our flexible hiring approach and what it’s like to live and work in New Zealand,” the post states and notes that Simpson Grierson will pay relocation expenses and provide immigration assistance plus practical help to anyone it hires.

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