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High Pay Not Everything, Say Legal Firms

High Pay Not Everything, Say Legal Firms

Are the big bucks that can be earned working in Auckland enough to warrant the hassle of big city problems - the annoying traffic commute, expensive parking, housing unaffordability and the general high cost of living?

In the latest Legal Personnel salary survey, remuneration expert Jarrod Moyle looks at that question. He collected data from Auckland and Waikato/Bay of Plenty (BOP) law firms to compare the impact of remuneration on engagement with the legal employer. The survey included responses from 61 firms in Auckland and 27 outside Auckland, mostly in the Waikato and BOP and three from Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki.

Not surprisingly, they found salaries for almost every role are higher in Auckland than in the Waikato/BOP. However, the survey showed that for solicitors, salaries in Auckland were on average just 7.2% higher than Waikato/BOP firms. On average, legal executives and legal secretaries in Auckland earned 10.5% more than their Waikato/BOP counterparts.

Moyle discovered many legal firms are very aware that it’s not just about what you earn. The lifestyle benefits to compensate for earning less are a lot more prevalent in the regions with cheaper housing and much easier commuting being big selling points for those outside of Auckland.

There are also more opportunities for enticing alternative rewards for those who choose to live further south. Whilst benefits in addition to salary are common in the legal sector in New Zealand, Waikato/BOP firms are much more likely to offer benefits than Auckland firms.

For solicitors, the most common benefits are free or discounted legal work, course fees, mobile phone and parking. Solicitors will be interested to know that almost three quarters of Waikato/BOP firm provide solicitors with flexible work hours compared to only 41% of Auckland firms.

Support staff in Waikato/BOP firms are also far more likely to receive benefits than their Auckland counterparts. Almost three quarters of firms provide free carparks. Less than half of Auckland firms do so. And 65% of Waikato/BOP firms pay for courses and relevant studies while only 38% of Auckland firms Auckland do so.

It might go some way towards explaining why staff turnover south of the Bombays is also considerably less than in Auckland. Though salaries are lower in the regions, the data shows they’re much better at hanging onto their staff.

Almost a third of Waikato/BOP firms said they had no solicitor staff turnover and almost 70% said they had low or no general staff turnover. Less than half of Auckland firms claimed the same. For support staff, almost three quarters of Waikato/BOP firms said they had no or low staff turnover, compared to 62% in Auckland.

“There appears to be a fairly conservative approach to growth and salaries in the legal sector,” says Moyle.

Half the Waikato/BOP legal firms aren’t planning to increase solicitor numbers over the next year, and it’s the same for Auckland. However, 9% of Waikato/BOP firms expect to decrease solicitor and support staff numbers while no Auckland firms planned to do the same.

Moyle says this indicates some real pressure coming onto these Waikato/BOP firms. “It could be due to competitive costs/pricing or work load drop-off. The fact that the pace of the residential housing market has slowed could have significant impact on conveyancing which forms a key component of the business for many suburban law firms. It may not mean they are planning to make staff redundant, but that they are not expecting to replace people who leave.”

“This could also be a reflection of overall business confidence. The latest ANZ Business Outlook survey completed in December shows a seven-month low in optimism about New Zealand’s economic outlook. This could be as a result of the election, the new government and uncertainty around the future.”

“Despite this, since the Christmas break we have seen a surge in vacancies, with a number of new opportunities in the Waikato and BOP. Perhaps this is an indicator that business confidence is returning for law firms.”

“What we’ve ascertained from this survey is that pay is not everything. But it’s important for all firms to get remuneration right to ensure job satisfaction which ultimately impacts on the businesses ongoing stability.”

To find out how to participate in the 2018 Legal Personnel Salary Survey, go to the Legal Personnel website www.legalpersonnel.co.nz.

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