Posted 10 April 2017 8:00am
If you took a seat in almost any law lecture theatre in Australia you would not be blamed for wondering if the conversations and organisations around equal representation for women in the legal industry were still necessary. A study of current statistics around such representation would, at first instance, confirm your suspicions. The NSW Law Society’s 2014 report on the Profile of Solicitors indicates that Australia’s solicitors are split almost evenly down gender lines, with females comprising some 42.9% of solicitors (in Tasmania) at worst, and up to 53.6% of solicitors (in the ACT) at best. These statistics are even more encouraging for women when the focus is narrowed to current rates of admission.
From 2011 to 2014, there was a 19% increase in the number of practising female solicitors across Australia, as compared to only a 5% increase in males. While in 2011 there were 32,356 male and 26,924 female solicitors across the nation, in 2014 there were 34,100 male and 32,110 female solicitors. As these figures suggest, considerably more female than male solicitors have been admitted in the last ten years, with the Law Society’s report noting that women now constitute almost 60% of current admissions.
The figure which raises questions about the realities for women and their role in the legal industry, and suggests the continuing existence of barriers to career progression, is the gender profile of solicitors as broken down by age. In the first four age brackets, comprising solicitors under 39 years, women outnumber men. From this point on, however, the numbers of women steadily decline. In the next four brackets, comprising solicitors aged 45 to 65, the brackets from which senior leadership positions are drawn, and partner positions awarded, female solicitors do not come close to equal representation. While these crucial levels remain male dominated, there is still a need for the conversations and organisations around women in the legal industry in Australia.