Major report reveals market “flooded” with juniors

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The Australian legal market is “flooded” with junior lawyers with one or two years post admission experience, who are finding it near impossible to get roles they are qualified for.
As a result, they are either leaving the profession completely or are taking their expertise abroad.
This is according to the latest Hays quarterly report for Australia, October to December. The report revealed “hotspots” of where the predicted future sought after roles will be, as well as looming trends within the sector.
Louise Gibson, Hay’s manager of professional services in Queensland, told Australasian Lawyer that the recruitment company is being bombarded by calls from graduate lawyers who are not able to find jobs.
“I get a lot of graduates coming in who should be going into junior legal roles but are now filling paralegal roles or starting to look at opportunities overseas. It’s going to be an interesting one over the next couple of years,” she says.
“I think a lot of people doing a law degree are starting to think about other options and not practicing as a lawyer.”
Due to the abundance of choice, firms are now only selecting the crème de la crème of graduates, says Gibson.

She adds that the “sad reality” is that there may be too many law schools as it’s beneficial for universities to put people through a law degree because they make a lot of money out of them.
But young graduates turning their backs on the law profession could also see a repeat of another current trend – a lack of good quality mid-level lawyers – in a few years’ time.
The Hays report revealed that the gap in the mid-level lawyer market hasn’t gone away yet, and was partly propelled by law firms putting a pause on hiring junior lawyers during the GFC, says Gibson.
But the good news is that demand for lawyers in private practice is becoming more buoyant as mid and top tier firms grow their teams and practice areas, according to the report.
“There is a little bit more confidence in private practice. It’s been tough for most law firms [until now], and it goes hand-in-hand with how the economy has been, however people are more prepared to pay for things like commercial litigation now,” says Gibson.
“Top tiers haven’t done much recruiting at all over the past 18 months… but I’m starting to see more adverts now. There’s more confidence coming back in.”

Activity has also picked up in the in-house market and demand is high for candidates with mid-level experience as organisations try to keep as much work in-house as possible, while only briefing out to firms when absolutely necessary in order to reduce costs, according to the report.

And within the public sector, there is demand for talented lawyers with both private and public experience who can immediately add value. Many candidates are interested in moving from private practice into the public sector in order to find a new challenge within a stable environment.

Hays board director for Australia and New Zealand, Darren Buchanan, told Australasian Lawyer that firms should be planning their recruitment needs further ahead.

“The legal profession can be quite reactive – people resign when they’re not expected to. But if you work out what your typical turnover rate is you can plan for that. It also helps that firms pitch what they’re paying employees, and what the benefits are,” he says.

In terms of the current “hot spots”, Buchanan says the construction industry is experiencing a general lift nationally. Banking and finance, a sector once “on the doldrums”, is now quickly picking up the pace too, he says.
  • John Smith on 24/10/2014 12:35:28 PM

    I completely agree with the proposition that law schools are now churning out way to many graduates which the legal industry cannot absorb. Opeating a law school is inexpensive from an operational point of view and the higher level of HECS (uni fees) charged make it an attractive commercial proposition for universities. I also agree that being a 'mature' age graduate is difficult. My former career is as a recruiter and I now work in a quasi legal position. I would not recommend to any 'mature' age person who is interested in pursuing a career in the law to go down that path. The industry has predefined norms for entry and anyone outside of those norms is unlikely to succeed.

  • Scott on 17/10/2014 10:45:17 AM

    Hi John,

    not sure where you advertised, but I certainly didn't see your add - spent 12 months at Forbes trying to get paying gig, spent the first 18 mths out of uni in another job working for free - just to get the experience - my problem? I'm a "mature" grad and I don't look good in a short skirt - but hey when the person doing the hiring went straight from high school to uni and then into a law practice, they stick with what they know - other people who did the same...

  • Warren Cross on 15/10/2014 1:19:05 PM

    Hi Shakala, I would actually tailor my studies towards where I wanted to ultimately end up i.e. if you want to end up in IP, then clearly do IP. But don't think coming out of law school , and going to a smaller firm that does everything is a hindrance or not a good place to start. A couple of years in the country or the suburbs where you have to think on your feet, including doing your own appearances at Local Court and/or Family Court etc, is a great grounding. Then specialise, because ultimately it is the specialists who make the bucks. I ended up with a career in the entertainment industry representing rock stars and sportsmen . Having that general background was what allowed me to advise them on all their affairs , even if I sent work out to other specialists for tax, conveyances etc (to people who could do it better and cheaper than I could). Treat a clients affairs as if you were treating your own, and the clients will come. It is amazing how loyal clients can be, if you are up front (particularly about fees) and honest as the day is long.

  • Shalaka on 13/10/2014 3:21:01 PM

    Thats good advice Warren. Is there a way of starting to become a 'generalist' while still studying? Are there any electives that you would recommend?

  • Warren Cross on 13/10/2014 1:27:53 PM

    I always say to young lawyers, become a generalist before you become a specialist. Although I ended up as an intellectual property specialist in a large firm , my initial 2 years working in suburbs was invaluable in developing "legal intelligence". A murder trial one day, a divorce the next, a conveyance , drawing a will, doing a probate , applying for a trade mark - what ever walked in the door. It gave me a much better grounding in the law, then going straight to a large law firm, and becoming an expert in (say) cross border leasing hybrid mortgages(and knowing nothing else). Having this broad experience also allowed me to develop a personal following, a key to becoming an equity partner or running your own show.

  • ashleigh on 13/10/2014 12:47:34 PM

    Give me a year and I'm there John =P
    I actually find it strange that you only received 2 applications when right from law school it is stressed to 'apply for everything' and hammered into us how 'bad' job prospects are, weird.

  • Nick on 13/10/2014 12:31:12 PM

    I'll take you up on that offer in a couple of years, John ☺

  • Bill Rizk on 8/10/2014 12:30:03 PM

    One of the reasons juniors have flooded the market is because of the ridiculously low wages they receive. it is not uncommon for junior solicitors to receive $30-35,000 after studying 6+ years and sacrificing work and money in the process. Add to this the working hours and stress and the legal profession is not as attractive as it once was. Out of a group of 40 students that I studied and graduated with, only 7 are employed as solicitors while the majority couldn't find their first solicitors position and end up going into another profession. universities need to stop churning out law graduates or at least be upfront with students about their prospects of finding paid employment in that industry.

  • John Walker on 8/10/2014 10:45:00 AM

    I am principal of a regional practice on the North Coast of New South Wales. I recently advertised for a role within my firm for a junior solicitor up to five years PAE. The result? Two applications only. It is my experience that young lawyers are afraid of working outside of metropoloitan areas when many rural practices have difficulty filling challenging and interest roles often with prospects and lifestyle benefits beyond what metropolitan practices can offer.
    Indeed I have offered a promising young solicitor a positon, only to be told that he was unable to take the job because his parents thought it was too far away from Sydney (three hours).

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