27 September 2023

More women in law but pay gap lingers

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Brianna Boecker* says female solicitors now outnumbering males in NSW, but gender pay gap still evident.

The NSW legal profession is becoming more diverse, but the gender pay gap is still evident and women remain underrepresented in leadership ranks.

Today, the Law Society of NSW has released the 2021 Annual Profile of Solicitors in NSW and the findings reveal a growing legal profession with more women and younger practitioners.

Overall, the profession continues to grow with a 4 per cent increase in solicitors from 2020, coming to an average 7 per cent 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 per cent of solicitors were born overseas and come increasingly from Asia (+8 per cent from 2011).

The annual profile– compiled by consultancy firm, Urbis– uses demographic information from the Law Society’s database, covering all solicitors and responses by 56 per cent 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 per cent are female and 46 per cent male.

There was a 6 per cent increase in female solicitors from 2020 and 2 per cent 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 per cent of females reported earning more than $150k compared to 41 per cent of males.

26 per cent of female solicitors between 35-39 years of age reported earning more than $200k compared to 33 per cent of males.

And in the 40-49 age category, 23 per cent of females earned more than $250k while 34 per cent 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 over $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 per cent of private principals were female, which is up from 32 per cent of private principals in 2020 and 24 per cent in 2013.

There’s also a discrepancy in types of employment with one in five female solicitors reporting working part-time (19 per cent), compared to one in ten male solicitors (11 per cent).

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 1 July 2023.

*Brianna Boecker is an author at Women’s Agenda.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au.

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