According to New World Wealth’s latest report, a large number of South Africa’s wealthiest population studied a Bachelor of law or obtained a higher legal qualification.
However, even these individuals were affected by the country’s poor economic climate in 2017, according to a report by legal website Go Legal and recruitment firm GRM Search.
The report found that the majority of salaries in the South African market took their lead from the health of the local economy and political instability in 2017, as a number of large firms were only giving inflationary increases and in some support roles the increases were not even at inflation.
“There is always going to be the challenge of keeping key individuals happy and in these cases, there are instances of larger percentage increases, though these are often justified as being promotions rather than simple increases,” GRM Search said.
“At the more senior level, there have been instances of salary freezes and/or a request from Partners to recapitalise the firm. This can and has led to some discontent.”
GRM Search broke down the expected salaries for 2018 based on the minimum, average and maximum for varying levels of seniority (years of post-qualified/articles experience – or PQE) within large, medium to small and boutique firms.
However, it noted that at the more senior end of the spectrum it is not practical to give an upper range as the salaries can vary substantially.
The lower end of the spectrum paints a clearer picture – attorneys working at a large firm can expect to earn anywhere between R350,000 and R1 million in the first two years post-articles.
The figures are similar at medium size firms, and at smaller firms where you can expect to earn between R100,000 and R500,000.
Overall, salaries tend to remain constant until around the 10 year mark, after which they see significant increases due to seniority.
The exception is at highly-specialised boutique firms which start and end with significantly higher base salaries.
As part of its report, GRM Search also looked at the salaries of various companies’ in-house legal departments.
“Our advice has always been to gain a few years PQE working in private practice before considering a move in-house. Those years are invaluable and can certainly help to fast track your career,” it said.
“More often than not, those who spend additional years in private practice before moving in-house will be appointed into a more senior position quicker than those with the same number of years’ experience who moved in-house sooner.”
It added that the market is still tough due to economic uncertainty and that this has been further compounded with the inception of LOC’s (Legal Outsource Centre), which means that some legal teams are choosing to reduce the size of internal legal teams and outsource the legal function on a case by case basis.
“While we anticipate an increase in LOC activity, we are still of the opinion that competent permanent in-house counsel will be a cost benefit to a company,” it said.
Unsurprisingly the salary levels are not significantly different from private practice with attorneys with 1-2 years PQE earning between R300,000 and R1 million a year and typically stay in this range before reaching more senior positions around the 10-year mark.