That is a question we are frequently asked. For 17 years we have conducted a salary survey in the legal sector, so we have some pretty good information to draw from in answering this question. This year we have had over 100 law firms from across Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty participate in the Legal Personnel Salary Survey with some interesting insights. Here are some findings from the Auckland survey.
For solicitors, across all levels of experience, the medians in 2018 were, on average, 6.9% higher than the medians in 2017. Likewise, for all other management and support roles the change in the median from 2017 to 2018 was 3.0%. This is in stark contrast to 2017 where we saw negligible movements for all roles. The data in the Legal Personnel Salary Survey is submitted directly by law firms, not candidates, which gives the data added credibility in demonstrating what is actually happening in the market. The response rate for this year’s survey is also an indication of the interest in legal remuneration at present.
It is not just the movements in salary that is of note – we have also seen increases in benefits provided by law firms. Overall 89% of firms provide at least one benefit to solicitors on top of salary, and 85% of firms provide benefits to management and support staff. The most popular benefits for solicitors are course fees (63% of law firms), mobile phones (61%) and free or discounted legal work (55%). For management and support, free or discounted legal work and parking were the most common benefits (67%) followed by flexible work (56%).
For both solicitors and management and support, flexible work, mobile phones and a day off for your birthday all increased in popularity this year. Flexible work is now provided to 50% of solicitors and 56% of support and management, compared to 41% and 44% respectively last year.
But it is not just a matter of comparing your salary with others with the same level of experience. There is certainly a strong correlation between PQE and salary, but there are other a range of other factors that can have a huge impact.
The size of the law firm makes a big difference to solicitor salaries. Generally speaking, larger firms pay more, often considerably more to solicitors. The difference is not great at graduate level, but the gap increases as experience increases.
However, this is not always the case as another important factor is the type of firm. There are a number of boutique firms, particularly in Auckland that are small, yet pay salaries at an equivalent level to the top tier firms. Often the founders of these firms have come from large firms and have continued to provide specialist advice and recruit candidates from these large firms, therefore salaries need to be competitive.
Common to both large firms and the specialist boutique firms will be the results expected of solicitors. This might be measured in billable hours or fees, but it is generally true that large or specialist firms will have higher expectations, and therefore the salary reflects that. They expect more of their people and reward them as such.
But within any firm, there are likely to be variations in pay, even for those at the same level of experience. Once you have a few years’ experience under your belt, your performance and overall contribution to the firm will be factored into your salary review.
Finally, the location of the firm will also have an impact on salaries. Those firms based in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch are likely to pay solicitors more than those in regional towns. This is partly linked to the size of the firm, big firms tend to be in big cities, but also relates to the type of clients they serve. In the main centres, the law firms will have more large companies or government departments as clients, whom they can charge higher fees to. In small towns, the clients are likely to be mostly individuals or small business owners, and consequently charge out rates are lower. If the fees coming in are lower, the salaries going out will also be lower.
If you want to have a chat about your salary, or if you feel like you’re not getting what you should be, come in and have a coffee with one of our consultants. Pay is not everything when it comes to being satisfied with your job, but if its not right, it will leave you feeling undervalued and you will be unlikely to be giving your best to the job.
Jarrod Moyle – Managing Director