WHILE still tinged with an element of conservatism, a positive air is surrounding the Brisbane legal market in light of this year’s salary review.

A CBD full of cranes and the movement of interstate firms to the region are positive signs – but improvements are coming in patches and this year’s salary bands are testament to this.

Brisbane recruitment expert Alex Correa (pictured bottom left) says there is still a wide disparity in salaries as some firms are coming off successive years of salary freezes, while others have continued with increasing their employees pay checks by 6-10 per cent.

This is coherent with the 2014 Hays Legal Salary Guide, which reports increases are mostly minimal and employees who are hoping for a rise should be prepared to come under strict promotional criteria.

According to Correa, it may be the firms least expected that are offering higher levels of remuneration.

“It may be expected for national mid-tier firms to have a lower salary for a particular year level compared to top-tier firms – and the salary review surveys may also suggest that – but I am noticing the reverse occurring in some cases,” she says.

“Mid-tiers are battling it out for top-tier talent and securing it because some top-tiers had implemented salary freezes while they haven’t.”

Clarissa Rayward (pictured bottom right), director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, agrees with Correa in that it is often only a perception that bigger firms remunerate with bigger pay checks.

“Judging from my own firm, speaking with other Brisbane lawyers, and also reading the salary surveys, I am finding there isn’t as significant of a difference between salaries as people may think,” says Rayward, who operates a boutique practice of five lawyers.

“In light of the competitive market, the gap is narrowing as every firm is trying to attract the best talent.

Rayward says she is confident about the direction of the market and has put on another lawyer this year, raising her practicing staff to five.

“While it’s not always a positive sign for the community, family law practitioners are in much higher demand now in Brisbane than they were a year ago.”

Alex Correa adds to this and says the Brisbane legal market has shown significant signs of improvement overall, particularly in the past six months.
She says the market’s recovery seems to have accelerated during this time, even if some areas are still in a holding pattern.

“It is a far better market now and has improved dramatically in the past six months in particular.

“However, you can’t generalise for all areas of law – some Brisbane firms have experienced really positive growth while others are still finding it quite challenging.

“There is definitely patchiness in the market which is impacting on hiring decisions and I suspect will also impact on salary increases this year.”

The 2014 Hays Legal Salary Guide assessed firms from the entire Australian legal market to report growing demand in banking, finance, technology and in-house law.

On the local front, Correa says there are greater levels of activity in property, construction and infrastructure legal markets – a sign of the times.

“You only need to look at the Brisbane skyline and see the number of cranes to understand why these areas are picking up speed.

“These developments buoy the spirits of lawyers in these fields of work and are driving greater levels of confidence in firms.”

Litigation law is also on the recruitment train in Brisbane, driven by demand from larger insurance companies and interstate firms moving into the region.

“Boutique and medium sized firms are recruiting in this space as insurance companies review panels and tighten operations from a fee point of view.

“Interestingly, we are also seeing some southern firms who have been really strong in insurance moving to Brisbane, such as Lander & Rogers and Wotton + Kearney.

“This is going to mean a change for the insurance legal market in Brisbane and we are already seeing demand from some of those newer players in terms of growth.”

On the contrary, Correa says there is less recruitment happening locally in corporate and commercial law, but suspects this “may not be too far off”.

Considering the inconsistent market, she advises legal practitioners that it is currently invaluable to have a solid understanding of their skillset and what they can offer a firm.

“It’s a market where you want to understand your value as a lawyer otherwise you could fall behind from a remuneration perspective.”

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