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Perth firms fight legal brain drain

PERTH law firms are experiencing a shortage of mid-level staff as big salaries beckon young lawyers with corporate experience overseas.

WA’s three law schools are turning out about 300 graduates a year, but they can’t meet the demand created by the departure of lawyers with three to five years experience who are leaving Perth in their droves for international destinations like London, Hong Kong and New York.

Recruitment agency Morgan & Banks legal specialist Anne-Marie Lowry said young lawyers looking for an overseas ticket tended to have a commercial background. Part of the TMP worldwide group, Morgan & Banks has links with many international firms through a network which recognises the transportability of legal skills.

Shearn Legal Recruitment director Julianne Shearn said giant London firms such as Linklaters, Freshfields and Clifford Chance were flying human resource teams to Australia to hold intensive interview sessions.

“The London partners are particularly interested in lawyers with dual degrees,” Mrs Shearn said.

She said the recent construction boom in London meant that second degrees in engineering and architecture were highly sought after. Experience in finance, particularly in a top Australian tier firm, was also a ticket to London.

The most talented young lawyers were being offered a salary in pounds sterling that equates with their existing salary in dollars - almost a three-fold increase - as well as travel with assured international work few local firms could match.

Major Perth firms like Freehills, Mallesons and Clayton Utz have recognised this trend. Clayton Utz managing partner Gary Berson said that by arranging secondments with eastern states’ offices or related overseas firms, there was an increased prospect of the employees returning to Perth. The firms also tried to remain in contact with these secondees, hoping they may return.

While many young lawyers become immersed in the lifestyles of their various destinations, the great drawcard back to Perth was its weather, lifestyle and suitability for raising a family. But Mrs Lowry noted that many young lawyers returning from overseas were tired of working long hours and were usually looking for in-house corporate positions that were perceived to be less demanding.

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