Salary considerations for graduate lawyers

What is a Legal Graduate's Salary?

This is an avatar image of the blog author Tanya Dunbabin

As a baby lawyer there is a big question weighting on your mind.  With your first job you want to get started at a good firm, getting solid training, have people invested in you and get practical work experience. But the big question you want to ask is how much am I going to be paid?  

In your first job you bring theoretical experience.  You may or may not bring practical work experience, but you definitely bring a very willing and enthusiastic attitude to learn (well you definitely should!).  There is a lot to learn at this point, and the firm that offers you that very first job straight out of uni, will hold a special place in your heart.  They are willing to teach, guide and develop you. To them, mostly likely, you will be forever indebted for this.   

But more about the dollar signs!  You have a lifestyle to uphold now that you are a graduate lawyer and you want to be sure you will have the cash for all the coffees, Ubers and espresso martinis.  And now as a full blown adult I am sure you will also have to face the financial burden of paying rent, loan repayments and all the other serious commitment that comes with adulthood.  As a solicitor, your friends and family expect you to be on the big bucks - but are you?  

As a junior lawyer, your geographical location will influence the salary range. The 2018 Hays Salary Survey outlines the following ranges for capital cities across Australia: 

 

 

Location 

Salary 

Sydney

$55,000 to $68,000

Melbourne 

$50,000 to $65,000

Perth 

$55,000 to $64,000

Brisbane

$55,000 to $69,000

 

 

However, you may be considering starting your legal career in a regional location.  Regional law firms offer a different experience, but one that provides a great deal of responsibility early in your career.  Many Partners today started their career in small firms and rose up into large firms (in fact my own career took this pathway).  Regionally you will see salary ranges reflect cheaper living costs so will therefore a salary offered would be less than you could expect in a capital city.  

You may also be considering starting your graduate lawyer career in London, Hong Kong or New York.  This is the top of the top for a law graduate’s first legal role but it is possible and firms in these locations do consider Australian law students for trainee positions.  You will be required to be an exceptional candidate to compete for a role in these jurisdictions but it is actually possible and I know several graduates who have done it.  The salary package on offer in these locations are completely different to the Australian market and range from £40,000 - £50,000 in London (with an increase to £70,000 - £145,000 upon successful completion of training contract) and circa $180,000 USD in New York.   

Yet there is so much more to consider than just salary when considering the right firm for you.  Your first job shapes you.  It influences, guides and trains you in the specialism you develop and you ideally want to remain there for a good few years (looks way better on your CV for those early years not to be jumpy).  For those reasons alone, I recommend you think beyond salary as your differentiating factor between firms, if you are in the luxurious position of multiple offers.  

Too many students place the emphasis on the salary component when considering which offer to accept to commence their graduate program (even going as far as attempting to negotiate salaries).  Graduate salary are not up for negotiation.  The firm is prepared to invest in you heavily at this stage of your career, and you can do long term damage attempting to negotiate a salary at this level.  You are not a Partner - you are coming to them with limited training and experience.  It is the firms that see something in you, and until you step up and show what you are truly capable of and if then, you are outperforming your peers, then you can begin a discussion of a salary increase.  As a junior lawyer starting your first job, before you have walked in the door is a little too early for negotiation.  Of course as you begin to progress through your career I encourage open conversation during a recruitment process of your salary expectations.  It is at this stage of your career that salary negotiation may occur.  However, if an open and honest conversation can be held about this early in the recruitment process, all parties can ensure expectations are met.     

When weighing up employment offers, be sure to consider that a $2K difference between salary offers only equates to about $120AUD per monthly pay, once tax is taken out - so equating to $30 per week more.  If you elect to go with the higher salary, you may end up in a situation with supervisors that are not focussed on your development, you are given too much responsibility without guidance, or the workplace culture is horrid.  High salaries sometimes mean overcompensation for some other element.  The stress that accompanies this will not be compensated by this additional $30.  Whereas being in an enjoyable and professional challenging workplace where you thrive is worth a whole lot more than an additional $30 per week.     

As you will see, salary is not the biggest factor when consider which graduate offer to accept.  Think carefully, be sure you have asked questions and observed firms carefully during the recruitment process so you can be sure you have found the place that exceeds your expectations, supports your career aspirations and will provide an environment you will thrive in.  It isn’t just all about the money ! 

If you are about to embark on this process, your first career step is an important one.  I’d be delighted to coach you on this journey.  It is a crucial stage in your career and I can provide independent guidance and coaching that aligns your personality, values and career direction to an legal environment that suits you best.  Send me a message here, I’d love to chat!    

 

 

If you would like to hear more on my approach to navigating the legal landscape as a clerk or junior lawyer, head over to www.lawgraduatecoach.com.au