Thinking of crossing the Ditch? The Burgess Paluch legal database is the cornerstone of our ability to match lawyers to vacancies. But it also enables us to study trends within the legal profession, and it sometimes throws up some interesting insights. This article discusses an issue that confronts all Kiwi lawyers embarking on a career in Australia – choosing the state and city that offers the best mix of professional opportunity and lifestyle reward. We’re going to look at Sydney and Melbourne, two cities that can appear very similar, but which differ in important respects.
New Zealand admitted lawyers seeking to live and practise in Australia are a core part of the legal recruitment categories we handle at Burgess Paluch. And it’s easy to see why. Kiwis benefit from the Trans-Tasman mutual recognition regime, which enables them to fast track their admission in any of the Australian states and territories, and they come from a society which resembles that of Australia more closely than any other on earth.
New Zealanders and Australians may be very familiar with each other’s culture, but some stereotyping is inevitable. In particular, our database tells us that there is a strong preference among Wellingtonians for Melbourne as a destination, over Sydney. We wondered why this should be, and our enquiries revealed some interesting, and not altogether accurate, prejudices.
Firstly, the preference for Melbourne was grounded largely in lifestyle considerations, allied to some misunderstandings about the professional opportunities in the two cities.
We found the lawyers from Wellington:
- See Melbourne as having a climate more closely resembling theirs than Sydney’s does. In particular, they believe Sydney has more uncomfortably hot weather than they would encounter in Melbourne. Interestingly, their more northerly compatriots from Auckland seem to favour Sydney on meteorological grounds!
- Other than meteorologically, Sydney and Melbourne are seen as offering broadly similar lifestyle opportunities in matters like sports and recreation, with Melbourne enjoying a slightly better reputation as a centre for the arts
- Professionally, they tend to see Melbourne and Sydney as essentially similar. Melbourne, they know, is a little smaller, but as marketplaces for their talent, the two cities are seen as offering similar opportunities.
- Sydney is seen as scarily more expensive to live in than Melbourne.
All of these prejudgements deserve a little corrective comment.
- Weather – yes, Melbourne does have a slightly cooler climate than Sydney. But it’s a different climate, characterised by large and unpredictable variations that can deliver intense heatwaves, followed quickly by prolonged periods of cold, grey, rainy weather.
Sydney’s weather is less variable and more predictable. Of course it also has some heatwaves, but it has a greater incidence than Melbourne of extended warm, sunny and comfortable weather. Rainfall is actually quite high in Sydney, but it tends to fall in more intense but briefer episodes than in Melbourne. Winter can be particularly pleasant in Sydney, with long periods of crystal-clear skies and mild nights.
- Lifestyle – perhaps because of its more dependable and generally more clement weather, Sydney is a more outdoor society than Melbourne. And Kiwis in particular should note that while Sydney has a vigorous rugby culture, the game is virtually non-existent in Melbourne, which plays Aussie Rules, believes it to be “the greatest game played by men”, and looks upon other codes with a mixture of bafflement, amusement and pity. Yes, you can get a game of rugby in Melbourne, but you’re likely to be among fellow immigrants and, such is the sheer religious attachment of Victorians to their code, your efforts are never likely to receive much recognition!
In the arts, Melbourne certainly flatters itself that it has Sydney at a disadvantage. And Sydneysiders are not as quick as they might be to defend their city’s artistic culture. But that’s partly because they don’t like feeling that they need to, and it’s worth pointing out on their behalf that Sydney is the home of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Opera Australia. It has of course the iconic Opera House, but also many other fine performance venues, including the City Recital Hall, once described by pianist Stephen Hough as “the best acoustic I have ever played in”.
Sydney also offers ample opportunity for amateur performance. Singers have a choice of world-class choirs, and instrumentalists a choice of amateur and amateur-professional orchestras.
Sydney café culture is less concentrated than we find in Melbourne, but it thrives in pockets all over the conurbation, including many harbour-side and beach locations. Once again the weather favours outdoor seating. And even Melbourne’s most loyal champions will concede that the transcendent beauty of Sydney’s harbour has no match in Melbourne.
- Professional opportunity – for a family or general practice lawyer, the two cities may be broadly similar, and the remuneration, corrected for cost of living, broadly similar. In that sense, the opportunities the two cities offer are indeed comparable. But for the lawyer aiming for the upper tiers of commercial law, it is quite wrong to imagine that Melbourne has similar opportunities to Sydney. As the home to over 50% of ASX listed companies, Sydney outweighs all the other Australian cities put together as a location for top tier corporate activity and mergers and acquisitions, and vastly outweighs Melbourne in a city-to-city comparison.
- Cost of living – Sydney is certainly more expensive to live in than Melbourne, with housing the stand-out expense. However Sydney’s salary structure amply corrects this imbalance and, on balance, corporate lawyers in Sydney are more than compensated for the difference.
No two lawyers are alike – that’s a cornerstone of the Burgess Paluch approach to recruitment. But Kiwis looking for access to the commanding heights of their profession by moving to Australia should invest in a visit or two to the cities they are considering, and should certainly not be persuaded to choose one on the strength of its stereotypical reputation!
If you are interested in a move from New Zealand to either Sydney or Melbourne contact Paul Burgess, Director, in Melbourne on +61 3 8676 0372 or Kirsty McNay, Manager (and fellow kiwi), in Sydney on +61 2 9216 9080. We travel regularly to Auckland and Wellington to meet with lawyers considering a move and are happy to discuss your personal circumstances with you.