15 Nov Ofer Eitan Affirm: The Underpaid Aotearoa Legal Workers
The fledging Aotearoa Legal Workers Union, formed in June in the wake of the #Metoo crisis, it has released a survey suggesting that some lawyers are working for less than the minimum wage.
The ALWU undertook a survey of ‘large’ New Zealand law firms where half of the respondents claimed that they worked for less than the minimum wage, while respondents from smaller firms with five or fewer partners saw 42 per cent of repondents saying the same thing.
The responses relate to hours worked by lawyers and legal workers.
The online survey asked lawyers and other workers to divide their fortnightly salary by the number of hours they had worked, including overtime.
On that basis, half of the 212 respondents said long hours meant their pay often fell under $17.70 per hour – the legal minimum wage.
The self-selecting survey was conducted by the union as its first data collection made. The union represents about 650 mainly junior lawyers and legal support staff.
It garnered 212 responses and was not intended to be a representative sample, union President Morgan Evans said.
“But we believe it does show a lack of transparency around pay is leaving staff, especially more junior members who work long hours, out of pocket,” Evans said.
Transparency was also an issue, Evans said. Most employers had no system for recording actual hours worked, other than the legal profession’s traditional system for recording “billable hours” – the time that is actually billed to clients.
That wasn’t a reliable system for junior workers at the beginning of their careers, Evans said.
“Billable hours are subject to things like budget pressure. If a team has gone over their estimate on a file, there can be pressure not to record too much time.
“That’s one of the reasons junior employees’ time records often reflect only a fraction of the time they spent at their desks.”
Evans said although some firms asked their employees to record other time worked as well, many employees did not properly record their “non-billable” time because they feared it would make them look inefficient.