For the first time, women outnumber men in Australia’s legal profession

There’s also been an explosion in the number of private law firms in the past five years

For the first time, women outnumber men in Australia’s legal profession
There are now more women in the legal profession than men.

The “National Profile of Solicitors 2016” report commissioned by The Law Society of New South Wales said that there are 71,509 practicing solicitors in Australia, with women solicitors numbering 35,799, or 50.1%, compared to 35,710 men solicitors, or 49.9%.

There were twice as many women as men entering the profession in the last two years, the report showed, with the number of women increasing by 24% and the number of men increasing 16%.

The legal profession grew 24% from 2011 to 2016. The largest proportion of solicitors are registered in New South Wales (42.2%), followed by Victoria (25.4%), and Queensland (15.3%).

More and more are also working in-house or in the government, as the proportion of solicitors working in private practice dropped to 69% from 75% in the past five years. In the five years from 2011, there was a 59% increase in the number of solicitors working in the corporate sector, much higher than the 17% growth of those working in the private sector.

Women solicitors now outnumber men solicitors in the corporate and government sectors, while men solicitors still outnumber female solicitors in private practice.

Australia’s legal profession has slightly become older, with the average age of solicitors in 2016 being 42.4 years, an increase from the 41.8 average in 2011. The age group that grew fastest from 2014 to 2016 at 23% was those aged 65 years or older. The 24 years or younger group decreased by 14.9% in the same period.

A total of 621, or 1.6%, of solicitors identified themselves as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander in 2016. A majority,53.1%, were women.

The country now also has more private law firms, with an increase of 46% from 10,632 private law firms in 2011 to 15,539 in 2016. Medium and large firms recorded the greatest growth in the five years from 2011, with the groups growing 131% and 89%, respectively. This is compared to the 37% growth of sole practitioners, and 74% growth of law firms with two to four partners.

With women outnumbering men, law firms and law societies need to increase efforts and strategies to promote equality in leadership positions, according to Michael Tidball, chief executive of the Law Society of NSW.

“We have made significant advances in all areas of practice to assist the retention and career progression of women in the profession however impediments still remain,” Tidball said. “The legal profession must assist men and women to better balance their professional and other commitments.”

Related stories:
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Women GCs making gains at Fortune 500 companies

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