2019 and the first few months of 2020 read very differently to the months that followed. The advent of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown measures in March 2020 brought the economy to an abrupt halt. Despite the initial fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus, law firms across Australia and the globe acted quickly and adapted swiftly from daily life at the office to a remote workforce confined to their homes.
Geoff Denton, Executive Director and Head of Taylor Root Private Practice Australia, gives his report on the current status of the Australian Private Practice market.
Australian Private Practice Market Overview - 2020
2020 has seen major disruptions to the legal recruitment market across the country.
The year started strongly, with ambitious projections of work across multiple practice areas including corporate, litigation, finance, and construction. Top-tier, mid-tier, and boutique firms actively sought to bolster their teams in anticipation of the impending workload. Salaries increased due to demand, strong candidates received multiple offers and firms consistently offered the top end of their range (or just beyond it in some instances).
The advent of COVID-19 and subsequent lockdown measures in March 2020 brought the economy and recruitment to an abrupt halt. The main priority for all our clients, understandably and quite rightly, has been the health and well-being (physically and mentally) of their current staff.
From our conversations across the legal industry, it has been very pleasing to hear how well workplaces have adapted, with technology playing a vital role in keeping teams together and work-flow being managed.
As the business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic grew, managing those impacts was prioritised by law firms and we inevitably saw many firms pause recruitment processes as they concentrated on the organisation of their remote workforce.
Where recruitment processes did continue, the focus was on the personal health of the interviewers and the candidate resulting in video interviewing replacing face to face meetings, contracts being signed remotely via Adobe Sign and many discussions around how to effectively onboard remotely.
For all our clients, as for the whole business sector, there is still much uncertainty as to the long-term impacts that COVID-19 may have on a firm’s performance and how that may change the requirements of the
business with respect to their staffing needs.
As was well publicised, several firms have reduced working hours to four days per week or are enforcing employees to take annual leave.
For many law firms, a hiring freeze was considered appropriate. Others chose to pause their hiring processes until the situation improved, and some firms saw it as an opportunity to pick up talent.
Navigating this environment is difficult and no doubt ever-changing but overall law firms have remained optimistic towards recruitment especially in the areas where it was extremely difficult to source candidates prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been no one size fits all approach to the way recruitment has been handled over the past few months, and that’s something that we expect to continue as each firm navigates it's own
It was pleasing to hear that many lawyers remained busy, reporting that their utilisation rates were high, and in some cases well above what they were prior to COVID-19. In particular, lawyers in construction & projects, restructuring & insolvency, insurance, and employment have been kept extremely busy.
Practice groups that we expected to take a hit such as corporate and banking have actually, so far, not been impacted as heavily as firms anticipated with most firms reporting stronger than expected deal flow. Perhaps what has been most surprising is that lawyers are now having even more client interaction than ever, thanks to the perceived increased availability of their time (and also that of their clients).
What is constant, regardless of the COVID-19 pandemic, is that law firms are always interested in speaking with talented lawyers thinking of a move. Now, more than ever, Partners are looking to have exploratory conversations with those at the Associate or Senior Associate level with the view of hiring them into their teams when the uncertainty subsides.
It seems unlikely that salaries will increase significantly in 2020 considering the industry-wide salary and bonus reductions and diminished recruitment capability. However, when the market returns, we expect firms will review their bandings in order to remain competitive.
Accordingly, in anticipation of a return to high volume recruitment, this is an excellent time for lawyers across all practice areas, to start thinking strategically about their career path and to evaluate all options which may be available to them.
To read more about the Australian Private Practice market, view Australian Lawyers’ salaries at Top-Tier, Mid-Tier and Boutique firms, and Partners’ remuneration and to read about other Private Practice International Market Insights and salaries, we invite you to download the complete report by filling in the form below.