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The Law Society of New South Wales has published its 2023 Annual Profile of Solicitors NSW, a yearly snapshot of solicitors in the state. Based on data collected as of 31 October 2023, the report offers a comprehensive overview of the profession, encompassing demographics, practice areas, income levels, and more.

The profession continues to expand, with a five per cent increase in the number of solicitors from 2022 to 2023. This growth aligns with the average annual growth rate observed over the past 25 years.

Law Society President Brett McGrath says the trend highlights the continuing appeal of the legal profession.

“It’s one of the oldest professions in the world, and we hold a privileged position in society. We’re officers of the court, we have those obligations on top of everybody else… and we do great work, day in, day out,” McGrath says.

“[I] think… we’re still seen to be a profession that’s very attractive and holds that special place in society.”

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Brett McGrath, Law Society of NSW President

More NSW solicitors commit to pro bono

A key highlight from the Profile reveals a profession dedicated to enabling access to justice for those who can least afford it. According to results from the 2023 Law Society’s Practising Certificate survey, 42 per cent of the nearly 13,600 participating solicitors reported doing pro bono work in the past year, delivering an estimated $117 million worth of pro bono work. This marks the second consecutive year there has been a two per cent increase in participation. On average, solicitors dedicated 69 hours to pro bono work, almost doubling the 35-hour target.

McGrath says he is pleased but not surprised, because pro bono work is consistent with the “finest traditions of the legal profession” and people coming into the profession are doing it for “altruistic ends”.

“[T]hey want to make the world a better place. They want to help people who are in need, and that pro bono tradition is a really critical one, and one where people feel that they’re able to be the best solicitors they wanted to be,”he says.

“I’m convinced that more and more solicitors are seeing pro bono work as a core value of their professional lives. This is evidenced by a surge of more than a hundred new firms that have signed up to the Law Society’s Pro Bono Scheme since the beginning of this year.”

The Pro Bono Scheme can arrange access to advice and representation for eligible clients on a wide range of matters, including family law, criminal law, wills and estates, and immigration.

Baker McKenzie is one of the firms that have signed up to the scheme. Last year, they assisted ‘Endo Articles’, an organisation dedicated to raising awareness about endometriosis and building a community for those living with the disease.

In 2022, Endo Articles existed solely as an Instagram account, sharing stories of young women with endometriosis to encourage conversations about the disease. Brands showed interest in donating products to them. However, the organisation was not registered as a charity and did not have the required Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR1) status. After a brief look at the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission’s (ACNC) application process, the team at Endo Articles realised they needed substantial help to get started and didn’t have the funds to pay for it.

The group’s Director Kobe Marks, says it was difficult to contact law firms and several schemes they approached didn’t have the funding to support organisations in NSW.

“After a month of searching, we discovered the Law Society of NSW Pro Bono Scheme and were fortunate to be quickly connected to Baker McKenzie,” Marks said.

Baker McKenzie provided legal assistance to Endo Articles in creating a company constitution for charity registration, lodging an application with the ACNC, and obtaining charity tax concessions and DGR endorsement from the ATO.

Luke Hall, Head of Pro Bono at Baker McKenzie, says the firm’s pro bono efforts are focused on tackling the most compelling social justice challenges around the globe, where they can make the biggest impact and drive sustainable change.

“Our firm had the relevant expertise to work with Endo Articles on this matter as we have assisted numerous charities and not-for-profit organisations with similar requests,” Hall said.

Today, Endo Articles supports over 7500 resilient young people navigating endometriosis as a ‘tax-deductible’ charity.

Hall believes that solicitors want to “give back” and contribute to society as a profession. He insists solicitors get involved because pro bono work is vast, varied, and valuable, leading to great opportunities for professional development and experience.

“We know anecdotally that lawyers involved in pro bono work have a greater sense of personal and professional fulfilment and increased job satisfaction – who doesn’t want to feel good and valued when they come to work?” Hall says.

“You could be assisting an individual seeking asylum, a survivor of family violence, or [the] homeless. Or you could be assisting a charity of NFP organisation…The work could be right in your wheelhouse or be a great opportunity to expand your legal knowledge, skills, and network. Most of all, the pro bono work is valuable and often life-changing.”

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Luke Hall, Head of Pro Bono at Baker McKenzie

Demographics of the profession

Over the last five years, the number of women entering the profession has been two-and-a-half times higher than that of men. The latest data revealing that women now constitute 55 per cent of all solicitors.

The gender pay gap within the profession has halved over the past decade to seven per cent, and the number of female principals or partners has increased by 11 per cent.

McGrath is encouraged by the further positive progress regarding the gender pay gap and career expectations for women in the profession but believes there’s still room for improvement.

“The figures demonstrate that the Law Society’s leadership on these issues is bearing fruit, through its Charter for the Advancement of Women and its guidance for the profession on equitable remuneration,” McGrath said.

“We’re at a really seismic inflection point for our profession. We’ll look back in 10-15 years and see that this is when the graphs kind of switched… that two to one [female to male ratio] means that it’s going to be only ever increasing as far as female representation.

“[T]he change will continue to come as well, and that gender pay gap will hopefully continue to narrow or be eliminated altogether.”

The profession is both youthful and experienced. Nearly half of all solicitors are under 40, and more than half have been admitted for over a decade. It is also increasingly diverse, with 31 per cent of solicitors born overseas and 21 per cent speaking a language other than English at home. The most common practice areas are commercial law, corporate law, civil litigation, and conveyancing/real property.

Inclusivity and well-being

For the first time, the report also includes data on LGBQ+ practitioners and those living with disabilities, long-term illnesses, or mental health conditions.

“As one of very few openly gay men to have held the office of President of the Law Society, I’m heartened by the potential of this data to drive greater acceptance of LGBQ+ solicitors in law firms and other legal workplaces,” McGrath says.

“It’s a source of pride that this is the first time such data has been included in a report of this type by any membership or regulatory body for the solicitor profession in Australia.”

The Profile shows that three per cent of the profession identifies as living with a disability, four per cent with a long-term illness and five per cent with a mental health condition.

“Successive Presidents of the Law Society, including me, have prioritised the wellbeing of the profession during their terms, leading to significant improvements in wellbeing initiatives for solicitors,” says McGrath.

“A key contributor to lawyers’ wellbeing is being better able to manage a demanding career with a culture of long hours. It’s pleasing that this year’s Profile shows that in all practice sectors (private, government and corporate) fewer full-time solicitors were working for more than 50 hours a week.”

McGrath observed that the 2023 Annual Profile of Solicitors is more than just a collation of numbers.

“This publication paints a complex but illuminating picture of the state’s solicitor profession, providing leaders in law firms and other legal workplaces with information that can drive positive change and growth,” he says.

View the Profile here.