A new report published today by the Law Society of NSW has announced an historic new tilt to gender balance in the legal profession. For the first time in Australia, female solicitors outnumber male solicitors in every state and territory.
The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, published on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies (the coalition of law societies representing each state and territory), shows women have been joining the profession in soaring numbers since the first National Profile was published in 2011.
While women surpassed men in total number of solicitors across the country back in 2018, the newly released data shows female solicitor numbers have now also overtaken men in every jurisdiction.
“In 2011, when the first National Profile was published, women accounted for 46 per cent of the nation’s 57,577 solicitors,” said the CEO of the Law Society of NSW, Sonja Stewart (pictured).
“Women now make up 53 per cent of all solicitors in Australia and, for the first time, female solicitors outnumber male solicitors in all states and territories.”
While the solicitor profession saw dramatic growth across both genders (a total 45 per cent growth since 2011), the report showed female numbers have surged to a greater extent. The number of male solicitors grew by 26 per cent over the past nine years while the number of female solicitors skyrocketed by 67 per cent.
Women now make up 53 per cent of all solicitors in Australia and, for the first time, female solicitors outnumber male solicitors in all states and territories.
– Sonja Stewart, CEO of the Law Society of NSW
The report suggestss that the difference is due to growing numbers of women studying law at university and thus entering the profession at higher rates than men. A 2018 report by the Grattan Institute backs up this theory: it found women have made up a majority of university students in Australia since 1987, and that female law graduates have outnumbered male law graduates in Australia since 1993. Back in 2012, the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS) Report by the Law Council of Australia noted female solicitors comprised more than three fifths (61 per cent) of new solicitors admitted that year.
Stewart added that employers have embraced new policies and retention strategies, such as the Law Society of NSW’s Charter for the Advancement of Women, with a view to keeping women in the profession for longer.
“This particular trend underscores the importance of ongoing initiatives such as the Law Society of NSW’s recently revamped Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession,” Stewart said.
“The aim of the Charter is to promote and support strategies to retain women from all backgrounds in the profession over the course of their careers, including women with disability, and encourage and promote their career progression into senior executive and management positions.
“Since we relaunched the Charter this year, adding new provisions to prompt signatories to establish procedurally fair and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes, the number of signatories to the Charter has jumped from 180 to 300 law firms and legal practices.”
The National Profile report showed the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory had particularly high representation of women solicitors (with 61 and 60 per cent respectively).
The report also showed that women solicitors tend to favour community legal, government and corporate legal sectors more than their male counterparts – with women comprising between 60-70 per cent in those sectors. Conversely, females represented just under half of solicitors working in private practice firms (48 per cent).
While the profession has seen huge growth in overall numbers, the report points out a disappointing trend regarding the continuing low number of Indigenous solicitors. In 2020, just 632 solicitors across the country identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, representing 0.8 per cent. This is despite census data showing the proportion of Indigenous Australians across the population nationally is closer to 3 per cent. The report notes this is a trend that has perpetuated since 2014.
Read the full report online here.
More to come.