Legal positions "critically" hard to fill: How firms are getting it all wrong

by Mackenzie McCarty13 Jun 2014
Positions within the legal profession can be some of the hardest to fill – and some firms are going about recruitment all wrong, according to Seek’s New Zealand Industry Highlights: Legal report.

Speaking at a webinar earlier this week, Seek’s national client training manager, Narelle Stefanac, said supply of legal candidates is “critically short” – especially in certain practice areas.

Legal positions have the third-lowest average number of applications per ad, behind roles in Government & Defence and Construction, she said.

According to Seek’s data, which analyses the number of online views each type of job ad receives, legal secretaries, law clerks/paralegals and generalists – in-house – were the easiest legal positions to fill. Corporate/commercial roles weren’t too far behind.

However, aside from applicants hunting in the corporate/commercial space, the number viewing other more senior, or specialised, roles dropped dramatically.  The hardest positions to fill included those in insurance & superannuation, construction law, legal practice management, criminal & civil law, tax law and, hardest of all, environmental & planning law.

Stefanac says firms seeking talent in these harder to fill practice areas need to consider their flexibility, as well as how they're approaching potential candidates in the first place.

"The talent acquisition ecosystem is more complex than ever before," she says. "Advancements in search technology, the rapid adoption of mobile devices and the use of big data scientifics are three major trends that all talent acquisition experts should be leveraging to their advantage.  For law firms, the need to challenge ‘the way we’ve always done things’ is even more critical, because the candidate supply continues to be outpaced by the overwhelming demand for talent...If you are looking for someone in construction law, for instance, you need to ask, ‘how flexible are we willing to be?"

And this doesn’t necessarily just include how much your firm is willing to pay the right person, adds Stefanac, who says broadening the geographical scope of your search can be a major tipping point.

“Consider poaching candidates from out of town. Not everyone is in Auckland. Ask, ‘are we willing to pay relocation costs for the right person?’.”

The top three hardest to source candidates are those working in construction law, criminal & civil law and insurance & superannuation. While the vast majority of candidates in the first two practice areas are currently based in Auckland, the majority of insurance & superannuation lawyers are based (perhaps unsurprisingly) in Canterbury.

Stefanac says it’s also worth considering perks like a company car, free car park, phone, or health insurance if your firm isn’t able to meet the top-end salary expectations sought after by many applications.

However, while better salaries aren’t the only way to attract potential candidates, Stefanac says it’s important that legal recruiters are aware of the going rates so that they can ensure their (and their candidates’) expectations are realistic. Below is a list of the average maximum salary band (compiled by Seek) selected for each practice area, from highest-paid to least:
  • Banking & Finance Law: $157,499
  • Generalists – In-house: $151,263
  • Construction Law: $139,094
  • Corporate & Commercial Law: $131,942
  • Industrial Relations & Employment Law: $131,511
  • Insurance & Superannuation: $130,641
  • Tax Law: $129,999
  • Litigation & Dispute Resolution: $123,987
  • Intellectual Property Law: $123,395
  • Legal Practice Management: $122,726
  • Environment & Planning Law: $117,707
  • Property Law: $111,241
  • Family Law: $108,604
  • Personal Injury Law: $99,666
  • Generalists – Law Firm: $96,224
  • Criminal & Civil Law: $84,614
  • Other: $83,906
  • Legal Secretaries: $67,043
  • Law Clerks & Paralegals: $66,034