New Zealand Law Society - In-house employment on the up

In-house employment on the up

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In-house lawyers now make up almost a quarter of the profession, according to new figures.

New Zealand Law Society data being compiled for the March edition of LawTalk shows that there are now 3,206 in-house lawyers working in New Zealand, 24% of the total of 13,530 practising lawyers based here.

The bulk of those are in Auckland (1,258) and Wellington (1,228) with Christchurch some way behind on 205. The proportion of women working in-house far outweighs men – 62% (1,993) to 38% (1213).

In 2010, the proportion of in-house lawyers as a percentage of NZ-based lawyers was 19.3% and in 2015 it was 21.2%.

Sian Wingate, President of the New Zealand Law Society in-house section ILANZ, says the steady increase of in-house lawyers is consistent with overseas trends. Last year, she notes, the Law Society of England & Wales published statistics showing about 22% of lawyers holding practising certificates are working in-house.

Sian Wingate
Sian Wingate. 

Furthermore, a Hays job report in Australia shows that companies have cut down on their outsourcing and that demand is set to continue for in-house roles.

In-house incentives for employers and lawyers

Jane Wellik, Associate Director of Niche Consulting Group, says she has noticed an increase in legal teams wanting to expand to limit their spend on outsourcing.

“This has been happening for some time and is gradual. There’s always been a need for in-house teams to develop their own capacity, rather than have an external spend, and over the last five years I have noticed a gradual increase.

“Obviously Wellington is a government city, and we we have seen an increase in team capacity in government in-house roles, but we have also seen gradual increases in the size of corporate teams. As organisations grow and develop, so do their legal requirements. Organisations like the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Auckland Council have significant in-house teams, providing strong legal capability across the business .”

Ms Wellik’s colleague Sinead McAllery, Talent Acquisition and Marketing Consultant at Niche, says there is an incentive for new lawyers to go into in-house roles.

“In-house entry level roles tend to pay better than law firms, if you’re looking at up to around 2-3 years PQE. However, it seems to even out at that intermediate level and then you start seeing higher increases in firm than in-house remunerations,” she says.

However, Ms McAllery notes that some entry level lawyers prefer firm over in-house roles as they feel they will get pigeon-holed too quickly, especially in Government roles. But that often changes to a preference for in-house as their career develops.

Diversity and opportunities

Sian Wingate believes the growing percentage across jurisdictions reflects the desire of many lawyers to be strategic business partners who can gain experience across a variety of skill sets.  

In her conversations with ILANZ members, when asked why they enjoy in-house legal work, the main reason given is opportunity.

The diversity of work or the chance to roll their sleeves up and help their organisation thrive by working in, around and with business and commercial teams on a daily basis. There are also many opportunities to move into non-legal roles if desired. Put simply, it is viewed by many in-house lawyers as offering a broader and more fulfilling career than the traditional private practice model,” says Ms Wingate.

Jane Wellik adds that, “in house roles provide the opportunity to really get across the business – to consistently engage with your sole client which mitigates risk early on and provides more opportunity for lawyers to engage strategically.”

Ms Wellik also recognises that while the profession as a whole is changing in regards to work/life balance, in-house is well ahead of the field. She notes the importance of this for wellness within the industry.

“One of the key considerations for the majority of lawyers we talk to is achieving work/life balance. We are encouraging both in-house and firms to ensure that the wellness of their staff is enhanced by getting the balance right,” she says.

“In-house has always tended to have a better work/life balance generally than the law firms. We are slowly seeing a shift in law firms where firms are seeing the benefit of not having the long hours at night, or working on the weekends, although there are of course occasions in both firm and in-house where this is unavoidable. It would be great to see a continued emphasis of working towards achieving the balance, to the point where for all organisations it becomes the norm rather than the point of difference.”

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