The COVID pandemic has surprised us all in many ways. Lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing and working from home arrangements are now permanently inserted into our way of life. There is no denying the devastating impact lockdowns have had on small businesses and the retail and hospitality industries, with wide-spread loss of revenue and employment uncertainty for many. But what has also been surprising is the pandemic has had the opposite effect on both the housing market, and in the professional services recruitment space, the job market.

The legal industry has seen demand increase to levels not seen since before the Global Financial Crisis. For lawyers, it is certainly a candidate’s market, and with most candidates facing multiples offers from numerous potential employers, salaries have been driven up accordingly. But are these salaries sustainable? Will they last? And among the mad rush to beat other firms to candidates, are you sacrificing long-term culture fit?

When the pandemic first hit last year, there was widespread uncertainty and anxiety. People were initially worried they would lose their jobs, and once it was clear they were safe in their roles, they were happy to stay as they were, accepted there wouldn’t be salary increases or bonus, took pay cuts and in some cases, were stood down without pay. Many support team members were negatively impacted, and as seen in this article, some are now fighting to have their salaries reverted to where they were before the pandemic.

In comparison, more recently we have seen a dramatic flip and significant salary increases of about $20-$40,000 more than the market rate. In speaking to other legal recruiters, we have seen instances of a one-year post admission experience (PAE) lawyer being paid $100,000 plus Superannuation, and in our own, a new graduate at $90,000. These increases can be seen across all levels and all tiers.

As reflected in this recent survey of the industry, as the salaries have increased, so too has the demand for lawyers across most practice areas. After the initial shock and knee jerk reaction to the pandemic wore off, firms saw their workloads increase dramatically. Their committed and hard-working staff were starting to feel the effects and needed support urgently.

Given the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, initially there was not a lot of movement; people wanted to stay put to see how things panned out without the risk or stress of passing their probationary period. By the time May 2021 rolled around, hiring was surpassed all expectations and the call for experienced staff was deafening. To compete with the rising demand, hiring managers had to adjust their sourcing strategies and present more comprehensive offerings to potential staff.

Now juggling a multitude of job offers, candidates seem to be placing less value on a firm’s culture and more on the height of the salary and role title. Firms too seem to be hiring on skill rather than fit. While we may not be feeling the effects now, the next 3-6 months will highlight the sustainability and resulting damage of this hiring pattern and the cost to both individuals and firms alike.

So, what can we do when hiring during this price war?

  • Ensure your recruitment process is simplified and more inviting – even if you are using your local friendly recruiter!
  • Retain work from home options outside of lockdown periods
  • Have clear KPIs with rewards for success and overachievement (these do not have to be tangible)
  • Consider a signing bonus rather than high salary (give a bit more confidence through the probationary period)
  • Project your brand – have a clear vision of what you offer and why you are unique – sell your sell and the firm – why do you come to work every day? What makes you stay?
  • Don’t rush the recruiting process but don’t drag your feet either!
  • Ensure you have remote hiring and on-boarding processes and policies in place – communicate this to your candidates
  • AND MOST IMPORTANTLY – Have a clear idea of who will fit your firm or team culture and stick within those guidelines without compromise!

Happy recruiting!

Alexandra Monks

Photo by Iñaki del Olmo on Unsplash