(This article has been published in Praxis April-June 2014 Supplement )
Salary is always quoted as the main consideration among those looking for a change in their job or career path. As a recruiter, there is always a need to manage the salary expectations of prospective candidates as well as provide the latest salary scale to employers in order for the employers to make an informed decision when hiring. To ensure a win-win situation for both parties, the recruiter has to balance both the needs of the candidate and the hiring company so that neither does the candidate feel devalued in being offered a salary which does not match his/her skills or expertise, nor is the employer left with feeling they have overpaid for those very same skills or expertise.
The salaries of those in the legal profession in Malaysia are definitely not the highest in the region. Singapore and Hong Kong top the list, where, among other considerations, employers need to also compensate for the higher cost of living in these places by paying more.
Comparison of Salary Scale in Different Regions in Malaysia
In comparing the salary scale in the different regions in Malaysia, we took into account the range of salary/allowance offered to pupils, 1st year lawyers and the initial yearly increment thereafter.
For the purpose of this article, we only present the salary scale of the main cities in each region:
|North Region||South Region||East Region|
|Pupil’s Monthly Allowance||RM750 to RM1,200||RM500 to RM1,000||RM600 to RM850||RM1,000 to RM2,000||RM500 to RM800|
|Monthly Salary of 1st year lawyer||RM2,300 to RM3,000||RM1,800 to RM2,500||RM1,800 to RM2,400||RM2,500 to RM3,000 *||RM2,000 to RM2,300|
|Initial Annual Increment||RM200 to RM400||RM200 to RM400||RM200 to RM400||RM300 to RM400||RM100 to RM300|
*It is notable that KL law firms that set up branch offices in Johor Bahru tend to pay their lawyers a higher salary compared to the local law firms.
Salary Scale of Lawyers in the Central Region According to Their Seniority, Including Kuala Lumpur and Selangor (“Klang Vellay”)*
As at April 2014
|First year lawyer||
|Second year lawyer||
|Third year lawyer||
|Fourth year lawyer||
|Fifth year lawyer||
|Sixth year lawyer||
|Seventh year lawyer||
|More than seven years lawyer||
No fixed scale
No fixed scale
*This salary information was compiled using our market knowledge.
Disclaimer: All salary ranges are represented in terms of monthly basic salary and exclude discretionary bonuses, or other variable incentives as of April 2014. These are indicative market ranges and are dependent on variable factors including but not limited to experience level, market conditions, firm size, areas of practice, job scope etc. There are exceptional cases where the salary for some lawyers exceeds the above indicative range of salary in some firms in Malaysia.
eLawyer.com.my disclaims all responsibility for any harm or loss arising from the use or otherwise of the information provided.
From the above data, it can be noticed that the various salaries span a widespread range. The significant differences (even among the Klang Valley) law firms are due to the factors below:
1. Area of practice
Lawyers in corporate/corporate litigation practice tend to attract a higher pay than their counterparts in other areas. This is likely due to the complexity of the work which demands longer working hours (sometimes into the wee hours of the morning). However, in larger firms there is no difference in the salary scale according to the areas of practice.
2. Size of the firm
It is common belief that size matters when it comes to salary. However, there are also instances where smaller firms may pay more than the bigger firms as they need to retain the best talent. It may be the case that lesser share to the sole proprietors pie and that enables him to pay higher salary than the larger sized firm.
3. Location of the firm
The firm’s location in Klang Valley may also be a factor. For example, legal firms in Klang or Kajang pay lesser than firms in the golden triangle. This could also be due to the lower cost of living . Being located in the golden triangle attracts a different set of clientele, which translates to having better paymasters, but who expect a higher quality of work. This in turn produces better revenue for the firm.
Paying the Big Bucks, What do Firms Expect in Return
Firms that pay the big bucks will be extremely selective of whom they hire. Large and mid-sized firms prefer in general to hire lawyers from reputable universities with good academic results (second class upper). As to the type of lawyers they look for, the Bar Council’s Employability Survey (Praxis Oct-Dec 2012) provides a guide.
Based on statistics, we foresee that it is likely that a first year lawyer’s salary may hit RM5,000 per month in a short period of time. As it is usually the case of “I must do what my neighbours do”, increase by bigger firms may force smaller firms to follow suit in order to maintain their competitive edge in securing the best talent.
Lawyers in Malaysia are not earning as much as lawyers in other countries (eg a first year Singaporean lawyer earns up to S$7,000/month (S$5,000 being basic monthly salary and S$2,000 being advanced bonus) with international firms) within the region, as one senior lawyer quoted, “because of the undercutting practice going around which affects the earning ability of the firm”, consequently affecting the salary of the lawyers as well.
In a recent survey conducted by recruitment site JobsCentral Malaysia, among 3,508 employed Malaysians, doctors, lawyers and engineers are the unhappiest workers in Malaysia as advancement opportunities beyond their supervisory positions are scarce. In fact, the happiest workers according to the survey were those earning the lowest from RM999 a month and below, ranking 61.5, whereas those who recorded the poorest job satisfaction at 55.9 were people with monthly salaries of between RM8,000 and RM8,999.
Hence a reminder to all young lawyers: salary is one of the considerations but not the most important consideration when moving to another law firm. Instead, you should bear in mind the conduciveness of the working environment, probable career path, availability of opportunities to learn, level of work exposure and the good leadership quality of the firm’s partners when it comes to selecting a job.