The newly-released Mahlab Report 2017 depicts lawyer career paths that are more flexible in the current “fluid” market conditions. 

The report is based on first-hand market intelligence gathered from clients and candidates by Mahlab, one of Australia’s leading executive search firms for legal professionals.

“Companies with in-house counsel and private practice firms now require their lawyers to change how they consult and deliver advice. The general counsel role in particular is less static: there is increased demand for individuals who can work beyond the legal department and provide strategic advice across the business,” says Lisa Gazis, Managing Director of Mahlab’s Sydney office.

In-House more open to alternative forms of staffing

This also impacts the way general counsel construct their team and manage their budget, which is very different to previous years. They are more open to alternative forms of staffing and different ways of working. Flexible work practices, hiring of short term staff who command high rates for project work and expanding the use of technology and outsourcing are all more prevalent this year.

Law firms are responding in the same way: innovation is the buzzword this year.

“The more progressive managing partners lead firms that are developing innovative strategies that ensure cohesive management of a client brief from commencement, execution and delivery of advice.”

“Firms are searching for and attracting IT savvy lawyers who can assist with development of complex internal software delivery programs as well as increase the service offering to clients,” commented Katherine Sampson, Managing Director of Mahlab’s Melbourne office.

“We are definitely seeing a picture where lawyers who work at a corporate and private practice level are equipping themselves with the skills to meet market and professional development demands”, says Gazis.

The new-normal career path for lawyers

The fluid market means more interchange between the sectors: a senior associate, in a longer-than-ever queue for partnership can join an in-house team of specialist as well as general commercial lawyers; a junior lawyer turns to government, quasi legal and consulting roles before returning to a law firm later in their career; a partner may select the non-executive director or CEO pathway as a viable alternative.

Sampson and Gazis agree that this fluidity and innovation bode very well for the legal profession.

Three to six year PQE are most in demand

Lawyers with three to six years’ post qualification experience are the most sought after candidates in corporate and private practice. Sampson reports, “Corporates and firms are now competing head on for the same talent pool”.
Hiring activity remains strongest in Sydney and Melbourne, followed by Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide.

Offshore movement by younger Australian lawyers is limited in the UK by recent changes to visa laws, however, there are more opportunities available in project hubs in Asia and the Middle East. The project legal teams in these hubs are often smaller and the law firms in these markets offer competitive salaries, more responsibility and a variety of work.

Private practice – Equity Trimming Continues:

· The average national salary increase in private practice was 3.5% down from last year’s national average of 3.8%

· The trend of trimming equity points continues in 2017: moving equity partners to fixed draw or salaried partnership, moving partners to consultant or counsel status or moving them on

· Partner movement continues as large global firms set up in Sydney and Melbourne. Other partner recruitment has been linked to firms boosting service capacity and offering to clients

· Bonuses for private practice lawyers are usually linked to billings over budget, although exceptional performers may receive a bonus of up to 20%

· Notable areas of demand are construction and infrastructure (especially front-end), property, competition, IT, banking and finance, wealth management and general commercial including business structuring and trusts.

Corporate lawyers are increasingly being remunerated on company and individual performance criteria

· The average salary increase for corporate lawyers was 2.7% this year, down from last year’s national average of 3.4%

· Over half (62%) of lawyers working in the corporate sector have a bonus component in their package, up from just over 60% in 2016 and 55% in 2015

· Discretionary bonuses or a structured short-term incentive were not paid if their company did not hit threshold targets

· The remuneration standard for general counsel varies according to the breadth of the role. Seventy-six per cent of general counsel reported they received a bonus and 69% reported that their long term incentives were worth more than in previous years

· The in-house market remains active as general counsel continue to adapt and lead their teams in the changing regulatory environment and the complexities of business

Download the Mahlab Report 2017 from:

Copyright 2017 Legal Practice Intelligence