The Lawyer Exodus & Opportunities To Seek In The Current New Zealand Law Jobs Market

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Delayed overseas travel and post-pandemic issues have lead to changes to the legal jobs market in New Zealand with law firms lifting salaries and offering bonuses and flexible working conditions to retain and attract legal talent, the LawFuel recruiter survey shows.

The LawFuel survey of some of the country’s leading law recruiters shows that the profession continues to struggle to find lawyers in numerous areas, while new opportunities are also arising for those prepared to take up the challenge.

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Our recent report on the views of recruiter Louise Hall-Strutt (left) from Altitude Recruitment reported some of the same issues, but the current shortages have clearly played out to the advantage of younger lawyers who have received significant salary increases and been offered a range of flexible working arrangements, sign-on bonuses, wellness benefits and other benefits offered by firms and corporates alike.

The talent shortage has seen an “abundance of opportunity” one recruiter said with excellent opportunities in the corporate/commercial area and an increased opportunity for litigation lawyers and employment lawyers who have also seen a big increase in demand post-covid.

Family law and relationship property lawyers were also sought after at present, the LawFuel survey showed.

Hays Personnel recruiter Lorraine Zenzic said that salary increases over the past six months had been significant, which had reduced the motivation for lawyers to change jobs purely for the money “but (they) are generally motivated by other factors,” when making a job change, she said.

Lawyers who could not travel during covid were now undertaking their OE, creating staff shortages for legal firms and commercial businesses, she said. 

The ‘Missing Middle’

In particular there has been a broader range of PQE lawyers who are now sought after, ranging from two to seven years’ PQE.  Previously the in-demand law jobs were for lawyers with 2-4 years PQE

“Law firms are aware of the need to fill their pipeline in these areas so they can continue to have staff to progress to leadership levels over the next few years,” says Lorraine Zenzic.

“We have seen a mass exodus, two years worth of travelers leaving at the same time, leaving an even bigger hole at this level,” she says.  

“What this does mean for those not looking to go overseas is they have options and a lot of them, it is a great time to take advantage of this market and for ambitious young lawyers looking to climb the career ladder there has never been a better time to move.:

The shortage of lawyers has also opened the way for more junior lawyers to handle more challenging work.

 “ . . junior lawyers are in some instances operating at a much higher level and doing work traditionally reserved for Seniors, due to the gap at that level.  Areas that are busy and will continue to be so; corporate, property  and litigation,” says Louise Hall-Strutt.

Shifts in Law Firms For Law Jobs

Zenzic also said there had been a shift in demand by lawyers for boutique roles and smaller law firms, which was often driven by the greater flexibility and opportunities provided by these practices.

“These solicitors often tell us they are also making the move to work in a more positive environment where there is still career potential and ongoing development,” she says.

New Legal Opportunities

Among the new roles offering opportunities for lawyers are niche practice areas such as technology, banking, IP and resource management and environment law, say recruiters.

“In this market, firms are slightly more open to candidates changing practice areas and I have recently helped a few candidates transition, so a good opportunity to take advantage of this shortage of talent,” says Hall-Strutt.

In-house recruitment specialist Jennifer Williams notes that in-house teams are increasingly focusing upon innovations in legal ops and technology. 

“So if you are a young lawyer who could bring those skills or interests to a team that would certainly be a plus,” she says.

Other recruiters said that TMT, public law, resource management and human rights were in-demand areas suffering from candidate shortages.

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Robert Walters recruiter Sarah Wilson notes that there are excellent South Island roles on offer including local government, resource management roles and she also says there has been a notable increase in South Island in-house roles, frequently providing substantial, flexible working conditions.

The in-house roles are numerous, says Jennifer Williams, but attracting the right lawyers for in-house roles is often difficult says in-house recruitment specialist Jennifer Williams (pictured below).

Given the increase in in-house lawyers in New Zealand where the number of in-house lawyers in New Zealand continues rising, up from 23 per cent in 2016 to 28 per cent in 2021 according to NZ Law Society statistics.

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“In-house teams remain very busy and are finding it difficult to keep up with service demands and workloads.  Finding new talent in the current market is very challenging and highly competitive.  Lawyers in most demand for in-house teams have 3-8 years PQE with a background in corporate and commercial law.

She says there are an abundance of in-house opportunities for mid-level lawyers, mainly in Auckland but also in Wellington and Christchurch.  Some are new roles and others are to replace lawyers who have left usually for overseas.

Recruiters say that Government agencies and ministries continue to recruit legal staff, along with businesses seeking in-house staff in areas ranging from construction to healthcare and general business.

Recruiters surveyed suggest that those seeking to move in-house would ideally have good commercial and corporate experience to set themselves up for a good in-house role.

“We have also noticed an increased demand for Company Secretary-related positions at all levels,” says Jennifer Williams.   “This reflects the increased focus on governance issues and complexities of the current regulatory environment.  Candidates with specialist skills in this area are of high demand.”

‘We are also finding that employers are open to hiring more senior lawyers on a part time basis to undertake the same role that a mid-level lawyer would have done full time.  This is opening up good opportunities for senior lawyers who are looking to return to their careers after time spent away,” says Jennifer Williams.

The changing landscape for law jobs in New Zealand continues to provide opportunity, even following the challenges of the pandemic, which have exacerbated lawyer shortages in the same way as it has for hospitality, construction and other sectors of the economy.

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