For the first time ever, female solicitors have outnumbered male solicitors in Australia, with 53 per cent of them in every state and territory.
Research from Sydney-based firm Urbis recorded 83,643 practising solicitors in Australia as of October 2020. The new report was published by the Law Society of NSW on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies and shows that women have been joining the profession in rising numbers since the first National Profile was published in 2011.
The largest divisions were registered in NSW, with 43 percent female, followed by Victoria, at 25 percent and Queensland with 16 percent female.
Last year, the National Profile of Solicitors revealed that the numbers of female solicitors has increased 45 percent since 2011 and that women were responsible for 67 percent of that increase.
Sonja Stewart, the CEO of NSW Law Society, who joined the society in the role in August last year, supervised the project for the Conference of Law Societies.
Steward told AFR that women were joining the profession at a ratio of almost two for every one man.
“It’s quite significant, for the first time – across Australia – there are more women than men … the numbers tell a story,” Stewart said.
“I think that’s why people are choosing the law – even people like me who don’t actually practice,” she added, noting a lot of work had been done over the past decade on making legal workplace more female- and family-friendly.
Stewart’s own career reflects the trend of women working away from private firms, which have only 48 percent of female solicitors. In the government legal sector, there’s a 68 percent female representation, while in the corporate legal sector, 60 percent are women and 71 percent are women in the community legal sector.
Stewart added she had made use of her legal training “every day since I got my degree”.
“If you think about the skills – communication, decision-making, analysing a whole lot of information, negotiation and solving problems – people need to use those skills in their career, no matter how diverse.”
Steward believes the recently improved Charter for the Advancement of Women in the Legal Profession is helping retain more women in the profession.
“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.”
In 2018, The Grattan Institute reported that women have made up a majority of university students in Australia since 1987, and that female law graduates have outnumbered male law graduates in Australia since 1993.
Unfortunately, the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander solicitors remains starkly low, at 0.8 per cent in 2020 – a total of 632 practicing individuals.