The NSW legal profession is becoming more diverse, but the gender pay gap is still evident and women remain underrepresented in leadership ranks.
Overall, the profession continues to grow with a 4% increase in solicitors from 2020, coming to an average 7% increase since 1997.
The 2021 stats show that nearly half of all solicitors are under 40 years old, and women have a younger age profile than men. The profession is also becoming more culturally diverse with the demographics showing 29% of solicitors were born overseas and come increasingly from Asia (+8% from 2011).
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The annual profile — compiled by consultancy firm, Urbis — uses demographic information from the Law Society’s database, covering all solicitors and responses by 56% of practitioners to the 2021 volunteer practising certificate survey. It’s meant to be an annual resource for legal professionals and the broader community to better understand future demographic and staff retention challenges.
For the fifth consecutive year, the number of female solicitors has advanced past the number of male solicitors, with the current 2021 figures showing 54% are female and 46% male. There was a 6% increase in female solicitors from 2020 and 2% male increase.
Nonetheless, the 2021 report shows male solicitors make more money on average in nearly all levels of the profession regardless of age. For those between 30-34 years of age, 34% of females reported earning more than $150,000 compared to 41% of males. 26% of female solicitors between 35-39 years of age reported earning more than $200,000 compared to 33% of males. And in the 40-49 age category, 23% of females earned more than $250,000 while 34% of males reported the same.
There’s an evident gender pay gap across all practice sectors, most notably for those over 30, with a greater proportion of full-time males earning more than $150,000 compared to full-time females.
In terms of leadership opportunities, the proportion of female private practice principals looks to be increasing but women are still underrepresented. 33% of private principals were female, which is up from 32% of private principals in 2020 and 24% in 2013.
There’s also a discrepancy in types of employment with one in five female solicitors reporting working part-time (19%), compared to one in 10 male solicitors (11%).
President of the Law Society of NSW, Joanne van der Plaat, says there is still a way to go but that lawyers can celebrate a younger, more culturally diverse and gender diverse profession.
“I think we’re seeing the profession in NSW growing to reflect more accurately the Australian community. That can only be a good thing,” says van der Plaat.
As for the gender pay gap and lack of leadership opportunities for women, van der Plaat says: “The Law Society is committed to working with the profession to assist law firms to develop ways of nurturing all their talent.”
The Australian public can expect The Law Society to publish the next Annual Profile of Solicitors NSW on July 1, 2023.
This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.