Specialist professional recruitment firm Robert Walters has published its annual salary survey, showing that professional salaries across South Africa increased by an average of 9% in 2019 – with legal professionals expecting their pay to increase by over 7% in 2020.

“2019 was characterised by hiring caution heading into the general election, a sluggish economy and high unemployment of 29%, which created an increasingly competitive market for job seekers,” it said.

“Recruitment processes became drawn out and protracted resulting in organisations losing out on good talent. Companies sought internationally minded professionals with high adaptability and strong business acumen to minimise the downtime often experienced during onboarding.

“The demand for employment equity candidates continued to influence hiring processes and these professionals saw salary increases of between 10-15% – slightly down compared to movers in 2018,” it said.

Other categories demanding premium salaries included transactional lawyers and specialists who could demonstrate high levels of technical financial competence, industry knowledge and expertise in data, AI and BI.

Interestingly salary increases across all new job starters were considerably higher than professionals moving internally, which highlighted the market churn trends, the group said.

In 2020, the shift in focus will be from staff retention to the productivity and effectiveness of employees, said Nic Sephton-Poultney, managing director of Robert Walters South Africa.

“Historically, specialist skill sets were considered a ‘value-add’, but we expect this to be a minimum requirement for candidates moving forward,” he said.

Legal jobs in South Africa

The top in-demand jobs in South Africa’s legal sector include associates specialising in mergers and acquisitions, banking and finance and legal advisors.

Up to 18% of legal professionals are expecting their 2020 salaries to increase by more than 11% in 2020, while 26% are expecting increases between 7% and 10%.

Legal professionals are also proving to be highly mobile, with half surveyed being open to new job offers – mainly looking for a pay rise, or career progression.

The average tenure for legal professionals in South Africa is sitting at two years.

The table below outline the salaries legal minds can expect to earn in South Africa, based on their job type.

Note: All figures exclude bonuses. Regional variations apply – for Cape Town or Durban, adjust by 10% to 20% lower.

In-house – Commerce and Industry 2020 Annual Salary
10+ years’ post-qualified experience R1 400 000+
6-10 years’ post-qualified experience R950 000 – R1 400 000
3-6 years’ post-qualified experience R750 000 – R950 000
1-3 years’ post-qualified experience R500 000 – R750 000
In-house – Financial Services 2020 Annual Salary
10+ years’ post-qualified experience R1 400 000+
6-10 years’ post-qualified experience R1 000 000 – R1 400 000
3-6 years’ post-qualified experience R650 000 – R1 000 000
1-3 years’ post-qualified experience R450 000 – R650 000
Private Practice 2020 Annual Salary
Director (10+ years’ post-qualified experience) R2 000 000+
Partner (7-10 years’ post-qualified experience) R1 400 000 – R1 800 000
Senior Associate (5-6 years’ post-qualified experience) R900 000 – R1 400 000
Associate (3-4 years’ post-qualified experience) R740 000 – R900 000
Associate (0-2 years’ post-qualified experience) R580 000 – R740 000

Read: 22 banking and accounting jobs that pay over R1 million in South Africa