Recent moves by several big firms to raise the salaries of junior lawyers is progress but more needs to be done improving working conditions, according to the legal worker's union.
In the past month, Chapman Tripp, Bell Gully, Russell McVeagh and MinterEllisonRuddWatts have raised the wages of graduate and first year lawyers by an average of 15 percent, according to the Aotearoa Legal Worker's Union.
Graduate salaries at the four firms were now about $57,900 per year, about $8000 above the annual median salary for large firms that was reported in the ALWU's annual report in March.
The salaries for workers with one year of legal experience have risen by nearly $12,000 above the median to over $68,000 per year.
ALWU co-president Bridget Sinclair said the pay boost was the result workers demanding higher pay, increased competition for skills from Australian and junior lawyers salaries coming closer to minimum wage breaches.
"We see this change as addressing a long-running, historical issue of junior lawyers being underpaid.
"Junior lawyer's salaries over the last 20 years have remained largely flat compared to inflation, despite substantially increased profits and productivity over that time."
However, the industry still had a long way to go to improve the working conditions and pay gaps for junior staff, she said.
ALWU's report found it was rare for junior staff to receive bonuses and many firms lacked clear overtime and time off in lieu (TOIL) policies.
"The issues of mental health, bullying and the major sentiment that we see in the legal profession of junior lawyers not rocking the boat or speaking out ... still exist whether or not our junior lawyers are getting $8000 a year more than what they were originally before this uplift."
"In order to really address the pay issue, we need to see overtime and TOIL policies implemented in these large firms," she said.
"We need a real shift where management styles and urgency of work becomes the partners' problems, not the juniors."
Sinclair said large firms carried a lot of influence and had the potential to set the tone for the rest of the industry.
She said it was difficult to garner public sympathy for a privileged group of people like lawyers, but what the union wanted was a more equitable spread of resources that the profession had.