A case to be heard

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A PAY rise for law grad­u­ates is one of the pre­dicted out­comes from changes to the na­tional le­gal ser­vices award sys­tem.

Law ex­perts say grad­u­ates will have to wait and see if the changes af­fect their chances of be­ing em­ployed in the first year af­ter they grad­u­ate.

The changes were made as part of the Fed­eral Govern­ment’s award mod­erni­sa­tion process to bring vary­ing state awards un­der one na­tional sys­tem.

Law grad­u­ates must wait and see if new em­ploy­ment reg­u­la­tions af­fect their chances of se­cur­ing work.

Lau­ren Ah­wan

re­ports.

LAW grad­u­ates can ex­pect to start their ca­reers on higher salaries from July when a new na­tional award sys­tem comes into af­fect.

But the new Le­gal Ser­vices Award 2010 has been de­scribed as ‘‘dis­as­trous’’ for grad­u­ate re­cruit­ment in New South Wales, where pread­mis­sion grad­u­ates will re­ceive a 25 per cent in­crease to their min­i­mum wage.

The base rate for grad­u­ates un­der the for­mer award, which cov­ered work­ers in sev­eral in­dus­tries, was $614.90 and the new award has a base rate of $767.20 and is le­gal spe­cific.

Law ex­perts are tak­ing a ‘‘wait and see’’ at­ti­tude to de­ter­mine if fewer grad­u­ates will be hired by firms who are un­will­ing to pay higher rates.

Firms face ad­di­tional costs as grad­u­ates re­ceive over­time for ev­ery hour worked above the 38-hour thresh­old, as well as paid study leave, un­der the new award.

Kim Eldridge, chair of the Law So­ci­ety of SA’s young lawyers com­mit­tee, is still un­sure how the award will im­pact on the le­gal fra­ter­nity, but says it will be dis­ap­point­ing if grad­u­ate re­cruit­ment is af­fected.

‘‘We don’t want the ben­e­fit of a higher salary to be at the cost of putting on more stu­dents,’’ Ms Eldridge says.

‘‘But we’re not re­ally sure (what ef­fect the award will have) be­cause, ob­vi­ously, it’s fairly new and we don’t have any data to be able to an­a­lyse.

‘‘What the young lawyers com­mit­tee is look­ing at do­ing over the next 18 months is speak­ing with stu­dent or­gan­i­sa­tions to see how many (grad­u­ates) are work­ing in the pro­fes­sion.

‘‘We might just be wor­ry­ing over noth­ing. We re­ally need to wait and see.’’

Aus­tralia Law Stu­dents’ As­so­ci­a­tion (ALSA) pres­i­dent Jonathan Au­gus­tus con­cedes law firms may face a sub­stan­tial in­crease in costs to em­ploy law grad­u­ates but dis­putes com­ments from NSW that the award will be dis­as­trous.

‘‘It is im­por­tant not to over­re­act and sim­ply paint an in­crease in re­mu­ner­a­tion for law grad­u­ates as not good for any­one,’’ Mr Au­gus­tus says.

‘‘Like many stake­hold­ers, ALSA will keep an eye on the long-term ef­fects of such changes, how­ever, the ob­jec­tive of re­duc­ing po­ten­tial ex­ploita­tion of law grad­u­ates is one ALSA com­mends.’’

But An­drew Ste­wart, from the Uni­ver­sity of Ade­laide Law School, says the na­tional award is ex­pected to have lit­tle im­pact in South Aus­tralia.

Pro­fes­sor Ste­wart says the award ap­plies to grad­u­ates un­der­go­ing prac­ti­cal train­ing with a law firm be­fore they can be ad­mit­ted to prac­tice in the Supreme Court.

In SA, Flin­ders Uni­ver­sity law grad­u­ates are au­to­mat­i­cally ad­mit­ted to prac­tice, how­ever, Ade­laide Uni­ver­sity grad­u­ates must com­plete a Law So­ci­ety course to qual­ify – dur­ing which time the award will ap­ply.

Prof Ste­wart says pre-ad­mis­sion grad­u­ates will see lit­tle changes un­der the new award, com­pared with pre­vi­ous state reg­u­la­tions.

He does not be­lieve the min­i­mum wage con­di­tions – which come into ef­fect in July – will be any­thing like the in­crease set to oc­cur in NSW.

‘‘New South Wales was the most un­reg­u­lated (un­der the pre­vi­ous state-based awards) so it’s not sur­pris­ing that the com­plaints (about the new Le­gal Ser­vices Award) are com­ing from New South Wales,’’ Prof Ste­wart says.

‘‘I would se­ri­ously doubt it (min­i­mum pay changes in SA) will be any­thing like (the 25 per cent ex­pected in NSW).

‘‘I would ex­pect start­ing salaries (in SA) could be only slightly higher than now.

‘‘But there’s no com­mon pat­tern of qualifications to be ad­mit­ted as a lawyer – it hap­pens in dif­fer­ent ways with dif­fer­ent amounts of prac­ti­cal train­ing. So it’s sim­ply not pos­si­ble to make neat com­par­isons be­tween those dif­fer­ent ways.’’

Law firm Kelly & Co chief ex­ec­u­tive Stu­art Price says the new award will make no dif­fer­ence to the firm’s re­cruit­ment pol­icy.

Mr Price says law grad­u­ates em­ployed by the city-based com­pany typ­i­cally take one month to qual­ify to prac­tice in the Supreme Court, dur­ing which time the award will ap­ply.

While a key con­cern un­der the new award is the in­creased rate of min­i­mum pay, Mr Price says Kelly & Co grad­u­ates al­ready re­ceive more than is spec­i­fied un­der the award.

‘‘We view grad­u­ate lawyers as be­ing vi­tal to the fu­ture of our firm as it is from their ranks that we iden­tify and de­velop our fu­ture part­ners,’’ Mr Price says.

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