Australian salaries remain static as slowdown hits top-tier firms

As in the UK, the Australian legal market has seen very little change in remuneration over the past 12 months. The latest salary survey by recruitment consultancy Michael Page shows the most static areas have been those in which lawyers have traditionally enjoyed the highest salaries, including banking, finance and corporate.
A graduate lawyer in Sydney or Melbourne at a top-tier firm can expect to earn A$40,000-A$52,000 (£14,000-£19,000) and a senior associate can expect A$130,000-A$200,000 (£46,000-£71,000). Their counterparts in a medium-sized firm can expect A$35,000-A$50,000 (£13,000-£118,000) and A$100,000-A$150,000 (£36,000-£54,000) respectively.
While most lawyers, particularly those in mid-tier firms, have seen their salaries remain the same, outstanding individuals in top-tier firms have received increases of as much as 15 to 20 per cent.
There has also been a notable increase in the size of the in-house market, although there is a large disparity between salaries on offer. An in-house lawyer working in IT or telecoms with two years experience earns A$60,000-A$85,000 (£22,000-£31,000) compared with manufacturing or retail where the figure is A$45,000-A$75,000 (£16,000-£27,000).
On the face of it, Australian salaries are significantly lower than those in the UK. A newly-qualified lawyer working in a large firm in Sydney or Melbourne earns between £13,000-£18,000, compared with an average of £48,000-£53,000 in the UK. However, when taking the cost of living into account, the disparity is not so large.
Peter Thompson of Michael Page Legal in the UK said: “Rent on a one bedroom flat in a good area in Sydney or Melbourne is between A$220 to A$400 per week (£79-£143) compared with London where you can expect to pay around £250 a week.”
Mary Padbury, a partner in the London office of Australian firm Blake Dawson Waldron, said: “Generally, the salary differential is in the cost of living, although there's possibly more competition in salaries here [the UK].” However, she added that the market in Australia was currently quite healthy and less affected by the economic downturn as the UK.
Sophie Hands of Michael Page's legal office in Australia said: “Our private practice clients have many vacancies, but rather than being flexible in their expectations, they're now more willing to wait for the right calibre of lawyer.”
But for those thinking of a move to warmer shores, it pays to head for Sydney or Melbourne. The survey also shows that those practising in Western Australia, Queensland and Australian Capital Territory get paid, on average, 20 per cent less, with those in South Australia getting 25 per cent less.