20 January 2020

One of Australia’s most militant employer law firms, Ashurst, has been systematically underpaying junior lawyers: “The same top-tier law firm advising Woolworths on its $300 million underpayment scandal has been underpaying its own staff, as gruelling work hours threaten to spark an underpayment crisis in the legal industry. Big six law firm Ashurst has undertaken an extraordinary 10-year review into whether its $80,000-a-year graduate lawyers were paid below minimum rates as a result of working long hours. Individual back payments to date are as high as $15,000.” But there is no connection, it says, between its mistreatment of its employees and its advice to clients about mistreatment of their employees: “Our employment practice is the leading practice in the market, but it is not responsible for administration of the firm’s payroll processes.” This is likely the tip of the iceberg: “Ashurst was one of 20 law firms that opposed new award clauses which, from March, will require firms to record hours and conduct annual pay reconciliations to ensure salaries cover penalty rates and overtime pay once actual hours worked are considered. … However, at least eight of those firms… are now conducting underpayment audits.” (Thanks to strong Liberal Party links, Ashurst does a lot of lucrative work for anti-union regulators like the ABCC and ROC — while ripping off its own staff.)