Australian Women Lawyers outnumber men

Australia records strong growth of women lawyers

Australia’s legal profession is at an all-time high following a +45% increase in the past nine years in the total number of practising solicitors, according to a new national snapshot. According to the latest numbers, women lawyers outnumber men by 53 to 47 per cent of the total number of lawyers in Australia.

The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, released in Sydney today on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies, shows that there are 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia, an increase of 26,066 solicitors since 2011.

The growth in the profession between 2011 and 2020 was observed across all states and territories.

Law Society of NSW, Chief Executive Officer, Sonja Stewart, said the National Profile of Solicitors provides important demographic data about solicitors in all states and territories, as well as changes observed over time.

“In 2011, when the first National Profile was published, women accounted for 46% of the nation’s 57,577 solicitors,” Ms Stewart said.

“Women now make up 53% of all solicitors in Australia and, for the first time, female solicitors outnumber male solicitors in all states and territories.”

Over the past nine years, the growth of female solicitors (+67%) has been higher than that of male solicitors (+26%), further indicating that more women are continuing to enter the profession.

“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,” Ms 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.

“The Charter seeks to achieve this by assisting the solicitor profession to develop cultures which promote diversity and inclusion, prevent sexual harassment and bullying, and impact positively on all practitioners in their place of work, resulting in better business outcomes for the solicitor profession and the community as a whole.

“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 Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory have a particularly high representation of female solicitors (with 61% and 60% respectively), which may be driven by the greater proportion of government solicitors

in those jurisdictions.

Female solicitors comprise the majority of solicitors employed in the community legal (71%), government legal (68%) and corporate legal sectors (60%). Conversely, females represented just under half of solicitors working in private

practice (48%).

Ms Stewart said the 2020 National Profile shows little change in the distribution of solicitors around the nation. The largest proportion of solicitors were registered in New South Wales (43%), followed by Victoria (25%) and

Queensland (16%).

And while the majority of Australian solicitors continue to work in private practice (67%), the most growth in the past nine years has been in the corporate legal (+82%) and government legal (+88%) sectors.

Key trends revealed in the 2020 National Profile of Solicitors include:

Size of the profession:

  • At the national level, there has been a steady growth in the profession over time with the total number of practising solicitors in Australia increasing by +45% since 2011.
  • When broken down by state and territory, the distribution of solicitors across Australia is consistent across reporting years (2011, 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020).
  • The national growth rate has fluctuated over time, from +15% between 2011 and 2014, to +8% between 2014 and 2016, +8% between 2016 and 2018 and +9% between 2018 and 2020.

Private law practices:

  • As at October 2020, there were 16,393 private law practices in Australia, down from 16,435 in 2018.
  • Most were sole practices or law practices with one principal (82%), followed by law practices with two to four principals (10%).
  • In 2020, large law practices with 40+ principals comprised less than 1.0% of all private law practices but 11% of private practitioners were working in those large law practices.
  • Across Australia, there were 71 law practices with 21 or more principals. Almost half (30) were based in New South Wales.

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Practice sector:

  • In 2020, the majority of solicitors in Australia were working in private practice (67%). This was consistent across all jurisdictions with the exception of the Australian Capital Territory in which there was a larger proportion of solicitors working in the government legal sector (49%).
  • Since 2011, all practice sectors have experienced growth, with the government legal sector experiencing the strongest growth (+88%), followed by the corporate legal sector (+82%) and private practice (+30%).

Age:

  • Since 2014, there has been a large increase in solicitors aged 65 years and older (+59%); however, these solicitors comprise only 7% of the total number of solicitors in 2020.
  • The mean age of Australian solicitors (42 years) has remained relatively consistent over the past nine years, due to the growth in the number of younger solicitors entering the profession.
  • Almost half of all solicitors were aged between 25 to 39 years (48%). Solicitors in the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory were slightly younger than those in other jurisdictions, with an average age of 40 years. Solicitors in New South Wales and South Australia were slightly older, with an average age of 43 years.
  • Overall, female solicitors were younger on average, with a mean age of 39 years, compared to 46 years for male solicitors.

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander status:

  • In 2020, 632 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait islander, representing 0.8% of all solicitors in Australia. Since 2014, this trend has remained relatively stable.
  • The highest proportions of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander solicitors were in the Northern Territory (2.0%) and New South Wales (1.1%).

About the report:

Urbis was commissioned by the Law Society of NSW on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies to prepare a national demographic profile of the practising profession in 2020. This is the fifth National Profile of Solicitors in

Australia and follows previous reports published in 2011, 2014, 2016 and 2018. The 2020 National Profile of Solicitors is available here.