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Australian Lawyers and the ‘Great Realignment’

Posted on May 10, 2022

There are many industries where employees have been reconsidering their careers over the past two years. The pandemic gave a lot of us time to reflect on our lives and what we value. The resulting ‘Great Resignation’ has seen millions of people across the world decide to quit their industry and/or change jobs. However, that’s not entirely indicative of what we’ve been seeing amongst Australian legal professionals. 

The Legal Market

There has been much anticipation about a looming ‘Great Resignation’ hitting the Australian legal industry. This interesting overview in Lawyers Weekly looks at this question and the tight candidate market we’re currently seeing. Unlike many other employees at this time, lawyers aren’t typically seeking alternative careers outside of the law. This may be attributable to the fact that Australian legal professionals are currently in such high demand both locally and internationally. 

What’s Next?

As reported by Michael Pelly in the AFR last year, the hot legal job market “is fuelling double-digit pay rises for commercial lawyers, with retention bonuses also back in vogue as employers seek to ward off competitors”. There are abundant opportunities for lawyers to improve on their circumstances at this time, either within their current organisation or by moving firms.

Employee and candidate confidence are currently very high and in order to retain and attract talent, law firms in Australia will need to continue to prioritise retention strategies. In general, law firms in Australia are doing a good job of ensuring staff retention is a priority with salary increases, career progression discussions and by offering more job flexibility than before the pandemic.

A number of Australian lawyers have continued to depart for international opportunities in places like London or New York. However, this annual exodus has typically always been the case. The difference has been a downturn of returnees and emigrating UK lawyers to fill the gaps. Now that international borders have reopened, we’re experiencing less stringent visa rules and an increased willingness to travel, so international firms will be looking to the Australian talent pool and vice versa. 

Lawyers On Demand (LOD) Australian managing director Paul Cowling told Lawyers Weekly “people are slowly coming out of a period of great uncertainty and challenge and are now finally, and only naturally, able to ask themselves – ‘what’s next?’” 

“The answer to that may be a new challenge or leaving an employer within which they felt undervalued. But equally, it may be a proactive recommitment to an existing employer. So, I think we are witnessing the ‘what next’ question, or what we have termed the ‘Great Realignment’, but the answer to that differs due to motivations, available opportunity and experience of current employers during the past two years.”