14 July 2021
The number of lawyers hanging out their shingle in Australia has increased by more than 45 per cent in the past decade, with more than 83,000 solicitors in practice
– and more than half of them are women.
Women now make up 53 per cent of all solicitors and for the first time female practitioners outnumber men in all states and territories, according to a new national snapshot commissioned by the NSW Law Society.
The profile reveals 83,643 solicitors practising in Australia in 2020, an increase of 26,066 since 2011, when the first profile was published. Women accounted for 46 per cent of the nation’s 57,577 solicitors in 2011.
Over nine years to 2020, the growth in the number of female solicitors (67 per cent) has been far higher than that of male solicitors (26 per cent).
Law Society of NSW chief executive Sonja Stewart said the trend underscored the importance of the society’s recently revamped charter to promote strategies to retain women from all backgrounds in the profession over the course of their careers.
“Since we relaunched the charter this year, adding new provisions to prompt signatories to establish procedurally fair and transparent sexual discrimination and harassment complaints processes, the number of signatories to the charter has jumped from 180 to 300 law firms and legal practices,” she said.
The results were welcomed by solicitor Courtney Bowie, who founded her own firm, Her Lawyer, after becoming disillusioned by her experiences working at a mid-tier city law firm.
“I was diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression which began manifesting itself physically with severe migraines,” Ms Bowie said.
“It’s very common in the profession unfortunately – burnout is what most of us refer to it as.
“In one firm where I used to work, a partner was known for walking the halls and checking that all female solicitors were wearing high heels … it would raise questions for your career if you were wearing flats,” she said.
“I thought, OK, I’m not really into this whole dog-eat-dog world where we climb over everyone else to get to the top.”
So she struck out on her own, building a law firm staffed largely by women and offering business law services aimed at women – although she does have plenty of male clients as well. Running her own firm has allowed her the kind of work-life balance she craved.
Ms Bowie’s hope is that the lack of women in senior roles in the profession – hinted at but not fully explored in the national snapshot – will become the focus of more attention.
The profile reveals that female solicitors comprise the majority of solicitors employed in the community legal (71 per cent), government legal (68 per cent) and corporate legal sectors (60 per cent).
Females represented just under half of solicitors working in private practice (48 per cent).
The mean age of Australian solicitors (42 years) has remained relatively consistent over the past nine years.
Overall, female solicitors were younger on average, with a mean age of 39 years, compared with 46 years for male solicitors.