Little has changed in the profession more than 3 years on from the Bazley report
Today ALWU has released its second annual Employment Information Report, based on a survey of legal workers conducted in 2020. It can be downloaded here:
This report follows the first Employment Information Report released in 2019.
The survey was sent to all ALWU members and also circulated more generally on social media. ALWU received 245 responses in total.
The Report covers minimum wage compliance, remuneration, working conditions, gender, and mental health.
The biggest difference between the 2019 and 2020 Report findings is firms' monitoring processes. Compliance with the Minimum Wage Act 1980 has significantly improved compared to the finding in ALWU's 2019 report that over 50 per cent of respondents believed they had worked under minimum wage.
The 2020 Report shows that 15 per cent of respondents who were working at large law firms reported they had or thought they had worked for an effective hourly wage of less than the minimum wage.
ALWU is heartened to see progress being made after our Minimum Wage Campaign. Several large law firms in Aotearoa have implemented time recording systems to ensure hours are being better recorded and monitored. ALWU members have also reported receiving minimum wage "top ups" at various firms, meaning they receive extra money for a particular pay period to bring their pay up to minimum wage. This is significant progress and the very first time this is occurring in the Aotearoa legal profession. There is, however, still work to be done. ALWU's position (and, indeed, the legal requirement) is that all firms should be monitoring all hours worked and actively ensuring minimum wage compliance. Read more about minimum wage compliance here.
On the topic of mental health, respondents reported high levels of mental distress due to poor working conditions, including a lack of adequate supervision, bullying, unreasonable workloads and long hours. The results show that common problems identified in Dame Margaret Bazley’s report following the Russell McVeagh summer clerk scandal remain, despite promises from key players in the profession that change will come.
Worryingly, almost 75% of respondents reported that their mental health had suffered as a result of their work. In particular, respondents from three large law firms reported extremely high rates of work adversely impacting their colleague’s mental health, namely Meredith Connell (96%), Bell Gully (92%) and Simpson Grierson (90%).
ALWU's Report also shows that the public sector is a better starting place for new lawyers compared to private firms. Junior legal workers in the public sector report earning higher salaries, working lower average hours, greater workplace satisfaction, and better mental health. Over the past two years, ALWU has observed this anecdotally, but the results of this survey reaffirm that private law firms – particularly large law firms – are not necessarily the best places for talented young lawyers.
ALWU has set out 33 recommendations in the Report, which we expect all legal employers to take on board.
For enquiries, please contact ALWU by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.