Demand for employment lawyers soars to all new high

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Specialist senior consultant at Mahlab Recruitment Nalini Moore says she's never experienced such levels of demand for workplace relations lawyers: She speaks with Australasian Lawyer to shed light on the trend.

Q: Are there many opportunities out there for workplace relations lawyers?
A: In my 12 years at Mahlab Recruitment, I have never experienced such levels of demand for workplace relations lawyers as we have seen in the past financial year. From law firms this is not particularly unusual, but in the in-house legal sector it represents a real shift.
The reality is that workplace relations remains a specialist area compared to corporate or commercial law, the more usual background for in-house counsel. Given the smaller pool of lawyers who practise exclusively in this area, the increase in demand presents a challenge to employers seeking to find a quality lawyer in this space.

Q: What are the driving forces behind this spike in demand for workplace relations lawyers?
A: The current spike in workplace relations recruitment activity can be largely associated with the introduction of and changes in legislation, particularly in relation to changes in workplace bullying regulations. Earlier this year, the Fair Work Commission gained jurisdiction to make orders in relation to workplace bullying, highlighting the fact that specialist workplace relations lawyers are increasingly required to advise on a range of ever-changing pieces of legislation and undertake any related work that arises out of those changes.
Recent job cuts, redundancies and industry restructuring in Victoria and other States has also led to increased levels of advice work for specialist employment and workplace relations lawyers who then handle disputes if they cannot be avoided.

Q: Why is there an increase in the in-house recruitment of workplace relations lawyers?
A: Traditionally, companies seek in-house lawyers with broad commercial experience to join their legal department . But interestingly we’re now seeing a definite trend to create specialist roles in the in-house legal teams. One example of this is workplace relations specialists.
We are also seeing more companies engaging workplace relations lawyers for non-legal positions, such as workplace advisors or human resource consultants.  
I interview many candidates who are coming from private practice seeking a move in order to gain more commercial experience. In these interviews, we talk about the way this can be achieved, such as speaking to their employer about secondment opportunities or making the move in-house.

Q: Why is a move in-house attractive for workplace relations lawyers?
A: The drivers for a workplace relations lawyer are similar to those of commercial lawyers.
Our candidates tell us that a move in-house appeals because it’s an opportunity to enhance their commercial acumen, gain an appreciation of business drivers and commercial risks vs legal risks and to work with a range of professionals, not just lawyers. They want to see the start, the middle and the finish of a deal, to see their work applied and even to live with their mistakes!
For a workplace relations lawyer, they can be part of the decisions that influence the company’s relationship with its workforce, collectively or individually.
Some lawyers are looking for the satisfaction that comes from dealing direct with the client, especially where their supervising partner controls this access within the firm.
Many of Mahlab’s corporate clients are very open to hiring a legally qualified candidate for a role that is not strictly “legal” because they want the analytical, technical and communication skills that a good lawyer brings to the table.
Workplace relations lawyers are great candidates for employment advisor, HR advisor or other specialist non-legal roles. Some choose to go directly into these roles; others try in-house law first as a conduit to a possible move outside “straight” law down the track.

Nalini Moore is a specialist legal recruitment consultant. She assists lawyers at all levels to secure positions in Australian corporations, government related entities and private practice organisations in Australia and internationally.​ Before joining Mahlab, Nalini was a senior associate specialising in banking and finance, leasing, insolvency and general commercial litigation.

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