International Spotlight On: Australia

The market was incredibly busy this year for both private practice and in-house, where many new positions were created.  There were also many movements at the General Counsel level where new positions were also created for first time sole counsel in growing start-ups and SMEs.

Spotlight On: International Law Firms in Australia

Private Practice

Over the past year, there has been a strong emphasis placed on the need to modernise and innovate within private practice. The demand for more transparency from legal traditionalists comes not only from clients, but new international firms and local start-ups. Though there is a need for change being expressed amongst Australian legal professionals, we are not expecting to see this modernised strategy being implemented any time soon.

Overall, legal salaries have increased 2-5%, which is in line with the wider trend of wage growth in Australia.

Lateral Hires

In terms of lateral hires, there has been a 20-25% increase in demand from top performers from the following areas;

  • Banking and Finance
  • Corporate M&A
  • Construction
  • Projects
  • Real Estate
  • IT

Mid-Senior Level

On the whole in 2017/18, the firms who have attracted highly achieving candidates at a mid-senior level are those who offer not only a higher salary package but who fast-track their recruitment process, and are considered to be at the forefront of innovation.

Partner Level

For partners, 2018 was exciting and tumultuous. Though firms are more cautious and considerate when recruiting at this level, there is still a demand for partners. Particularly those who can fill voids and facilitate strategies to establish new legal practice. For partner candidates who are dissatisfied with mainstream firms, boutique firms have a reputation for innovation may be more attractive.

Across the board, the rate of legal recruitment within international law firms in Australia is expected to remain steady, yet stable.


In-house legal practice has seen a fluctuation in fortune, with sectors like media, IT, telecommunications and financial services outperforming others. Australian General Counsel have felt an extreme pressure to improve productivity but reduce costs. Therefore, the legal sector is facing difficulty when trying to improve productivity due to a decreased headcount.

At What PQE Level There the Most Opportunities?

In-house roles are still extremely attractive. In the past year, there have been major movements for candidates who are at the crucial 3-8 year PQE level, from private practice to in-house. This is because candidates with this level of experience are;

  • Focused on future career development
  • Open to bonus incentives
  • Willing to negotiate a flexible salary
  • Less-risk adverse

The Future

Because of the pressure, the Australian General Counsel is experiencing to decrease external spending, it is expected that there will continue to be a push to increase in-house legal teams – particularly at 3-8 PQE level.

It is also expected that there will be more legal career opportunities in risk, regulatory and compliance, as these areas become more of an integral part of company operations. Legally qualified professionals are expected to be favoured for these types of roles, giving lawyers the chance to branch out of traditional in-house counsel positions.

international law firms australia

Information on the Australian market has been provided by our Partners at JLegal, Australia.

International Law Firm Recruitment in Australia

Please continue to follow our Spotlight On series to find out more about international law markets and your opportunities for making a move Overseas.

Our current International Guide can also be downloaded here:

Whether you are looking to applying for a position abroad or you are planning on finding a role closer to home, Thomson Legal can assist you. Please get in touch via the Contact Us details for a confidential discussion.

Thomson Legal

With 20 years’ experience placing lawyers with leading law firms and in-house legal teams in Scotland & Ireland, Thomson Legal is here to assist you in taking the next step in your legal career.