Strong legal jobs market shows Sydney and Melbourne booming
Sydney and Melbourne’s law firms are creating new jobs in areas usually associated with a growing economy, the Elias Legal Job Index reveals.
The Index tracks trends in the commercial legal jobs market by measuring the number of jobs posted directly on major firm’s websites in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle.
The first Index, which tracks job posting between July 2015 and September 2015, shows 229 were jobs advertised in the three cities’ major commercial law firms. And the biggest hirers were M&A, corporate, property, banking and finance and litigation practices.
“The hiring intention of major commercial law firms is often an early gauge of how the economy will fare over the next little while. When firms are ‘lawyered up’ they usually have a good reason to suspect there will be a significant amount of activity in the area,” Elias says. “So when they’re looking for fee earners in practices such as M&A and corporate, it’s usually a pretty good sign that they expect to be busy.”
“It’s not exactly the same story of ‘doom and gloom’ we’re being sold by many sections of the media.”
“That said, some of the roles are replacement roles rather than growth roles and we should probably keep that in mind before we get too carried away by just how bullish law firms have become.”
Here are some of the trends the Index reported in the period between July and September.
Big numbers in Corporate/Mergers and Acquisitions
Corporate/M&A and Property practices recorded the highest number of vacancies: Corporate/M&A was responsible for 17% of advertised jobs, followed by Property with 15%. Meanwhile, Banking/Finance and Litigation were equal third registering 13% of advertised vacancies in each area.
“No one who knows anything about the property market will be surprised about these numbers,” Elias says. “Firms have been looking for good property lawyers for some time now and they’ve found it close to impossible to keep up with demand from clients. But most of the headlines have focused on the residential housing market whereas these firms deal with much larger-scale constructions.”
“The buoyant jobs market in M&A, corporate and banking and finance also shows that there should be a lot of deals getting done at the big end of town over 2016.”
Lower numbers in Insolvency, Regulatory/Competition and Employment
These three areas experienced the lowest rate of hiring growth for the quarter, each accounting for just 3% of jobs. The two areas with the fewest advertised vacancies were Family Law and Energy, both with 2%.
“This wasn’t unexpected because our data focuses on larger firms in markets away from the major energy industry centres of Brisbane and Perth as well as the small number of firms in this category who practise family law” Elias says.
“That said, anecdotally the number of jobs in those cities is nothing like in the major two capitals – which suggests that the economy may be again be two- speed but with finance and construction leading the way this time rather than mining.”
Times still tough for recent grads
Most of Q3 vacancies were for jobs at the mid-senior level, which isn’t great news for the vast number of recently graduate lawyers struggling to get a job. In fact, 60% of available jobs were at Associate level, 30% at Senior Associate level, and only 5% graduate or Junior Associate roles.
“Firms are looking for lawyers who are already experienced and often come with their own client base. That’s especially true for roles where they’re looking to replace lawyers who have left,” Elias says. “However, firms often tell me that clients are wary of the idea of junior lawyer ‘practising’ on their accounts. Who knows where this is heading because lawyers do have to learn their profession somehow? But It’s going to be tough for recent graduates for some time to come.”
The pace of hiring slowed slightly over the quarter
In July, 92 roles advertised, followed by 81 in August and 72 in September. “Firms often wait to the new financial year before hiring,” Elias says. “So it’s natural that there’s a bit of a peak in July. As people slow down in the move to the holidays, we’ll probably see the pace of jobs growth slow down too before getting back to the same levels in February 2016.”
Sydney racing ahead
In a two-horse race between Sydney and Melbourne, it’s the harbour city showing the vast majority of advertised roles with 68% of all vacancies for the quarter, while Melbourne accounted for 28%.
“Sydney is the centre of the current property boom, as well as Australia’s main city for finance and M&A activity,” Elias says. “So it’s little wonder that the vast majority of jobs are being created there.”
The other major area covered by the data was Newcastle, which accounted for 3% of jobs advertised.
Top firms by advertised vacancy
The top firms in terms of number of vacancies advertised for Q3 are:
1. King and Wood Mallesons (13 jobs advertised)
2. Minter Ellison (12)
3. Sparke Helmore Lawyers (12)
4. Clayton Utz (10)
5. Gilbert and Tobin (9)
6. Allens (9)
“It’s interesting to note Sparke Helmore ranking third on this list, with jobs advertised across a range of practice areas, despite their comparatively small size,” Elias says. “And outside these firms, a number of choice in-house roles going at places like Suncorp caught my eye.”
The Elias Job Index for Q4 will be released in January 2016.
For further information or interviews, call Jason Elias on (02) 9362 1859.