Four years after female solicitors first outnumbered their male counterparts, a new national statistical analysis shows women reaching another important milestone in the legal profession.
Chief Executive Officer of the Law Society of NSW Sonja Stewart said in a statement that the results of the 2022 National Profile of Solicitors reveal the number and proportion of women in the solicitor branch continue to grow.
“For some time now, women have made up the majority of government lawyers (69 percent), in-house counsel (61 percent) and solicitors working in the legal assistance sector (70 percent). These new figures show for the first time that in private practice, the genders are now represented equally.”
Ms Stewart adds:
“Given a substantial majority (67 percent) of Australian solicitors work in private practice, the achievement of gender parity marks a significant chapter in the development of the legal profession in this country.”
According to 2022 National Profile, as of October 2022, there were 90,329 solicitors practising in Australia. This is an increase of 32,752 (57 percent) since the first National Profile in 2011 and an almost eight percent increase since the last Profile in 2020.
Ms Stewart notes that women have been in the majority in the profession since the last Profile was published in 2020. In fact, women continue to outnumber male solicitors in all states and territories as they now make up 55 percent of all solicitors in Australia.
In 2011 women accounted for 46% of the nation’s 57,577 solicitors and the high rate of female entry into the profession continues to be evident with the total number of female solicitors rising 86 percent in the past 11 years, while the number of male solicitors grew by 32 percent over the same period.
Ms Stewart adds that this growth was observed across all states and territories:
“More than 60 percent of solicitors in their first five years of practice are women. In rural, regional and remote Australia, that proportion rises to nearly 70 percent. The average age of an Australian solicitor is 42, with the mean female age being 39 years and males 46.”
However, she says more work is also needed to increase the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander solicitors who make up less than one percent of the profession.
“While the raw number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander solicitors has risen from 632 to 749 since the 2020 National Profile, their proportion remains at 0.8 percent. Internships and mentorship arrangements for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers are useful and provide good opportunities, but only for a relatively limited number of early career solicitors in this cohort.”
Ms Molina Swarup Asthana, National President of the Asian Australian Lawyers Association Inc, agrees and says that still much work needs to be done in this regard by the legal profession.
She observes that as a profession it should be reflective of Australia’s demographic and “give faith to litigants of a diverse background that their issues are understood.”
Ms Swarup Asthana told The Australia Today:
“I am concerned that we are still not seeing many women in leadership positions in law. There are even fewer women of diverse backgrounds in these positions. The barriers they face to progression are not specifically recognized or addressed and the imbalance continues to grow.”
The Asian Australian Lawyers Association published the Cultural Diversity report in 2015 which revealed that though Asian Australians constituted 9.6% of the population, they only constituted 3.1% of partners in big firms, 1.6% of barristers and 0.8% of the judiciary.
Ms Swarup Asthana adds:
“Anecdotally the figures may have changed marginally but the representation still remains dismal and more so for Asian Australian women.”
The National Profile of Solicitors compiled by consultancy firm Urbis provides important demographic data about solicitors in all states and territories, as well as changes observed over time.
NSW maintains the largest proportion of the nation’s solicitors with 42 percent, Victoria has 25 percent and Queensland with 16 percent.