Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union (ALWU) Releases Employment Information Report

The Aotearoa Legal Workers’ Union (ALWU) has today released its Employment Information Report, which builds on the findings of two previous reports in 2020 and 2019.

The Report finds that lawyers’ mental health continues to be impacted by their work, both by workload and the professional subject matter of the work, says ALWU co-president Tess Upperton.

This Employment Information Report 2021 is based on ALWU's Employment Information Survey 2021 of 253 legal workers, sent to each of ALWU’s members in 2021. The purpose of the Survey was to gather information on the salaries and working conditions of lawyers, including (and in particular) junior lawyers.

An overwhelming majority of respondents stated that their own (74%) or their colleagues’ (83%) mental health has suffered as a result of their work. Respondents identified a range of causes from stress, anxiety, unmanageable workloads, subject matter of the work, poor or no supervision, and feeling undervalued.

For ALWU member Amelia (not their real name), “once lockdown hit it became pretty clear that my well-being was not important. More and more pressure was put on me to ensure that my role was financially viable for the firm and no accommodations were made in consideration of the fact that I was a new employee trying my best to work from home during a pandemic. Not only that, my employer paid me as little as possible, while charging me out for as much as possible.”

“There is some good news in the Report - for example, salaries for law clerks increased significantly from 2020, with average increases of 16% for those at large law firms,” says Upperton. “Both medium and small law firms followed suit, with 23% and 15% increases respectively.”

“However, the statistics tell a different story for public sector workers. As a result of the Public Sector Pay Guidance 2021 (which replaced the 2020 guidance), salaries have largely remained stagnant or have fallen. This is concerning given the high rate of inflation and rise in the cost of living, and has effectively meant that some legal workers are having their pay frozen or cut,” Upperton says.

“As a public sector lawyer, the pay freeze has significantly limited our ability to build pay parity with comparable sectors,” says ALWU member Harrison Cunningham. “This Report adds excellent transparency on pay rates between public and private sector legal workers. Hopefully, the union's work assists with pay increases recognising the current disparity, and rampant living cost increases,” he says.

In addition to stagnant salaries in the public sector and poor mental health among legal workers, overtime continues to be a significant issue in the sector, with only 3% of respondents having ever been paid for work beyond their normal hours of work.

“When you compare that to the hours some legal workers are putting in, overtime is a key area in which employers can make significant improvements”, Upperton adds.

The full report can be accessed here.