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Law firms ‘seeing the importance’ of talent retention

The publication of the sixth National Profile of Solicitors report has shown that the profession — and private practice in particular — continues to grow and attract younger lawyers following increased efforts on talent retention and attraction.

user iconLauren Croft 15 May 2023 Big Law
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The 2022 National Profile of Solicitors, compiled by consultancy firm Urbis and released on Friday (5 May), presents a demographic picture of the legal profession in Australia and how it has evolved over time, compiling data provided by state and territory law societies and regulators.

It shows that the Australian legal profession is larger than ever at over 90,000 practising solicitors, with women dominating on every front — and chief executive officer of the Law Society of NSW Sonja Stewart said that it was especially encouraging to see this growth after a turbulent two years following — and during — COVID-19.

“There’s a growth in the profession, there’s a growth in the legal industry, we can see that through gross fee income, particularly over the pandemic. So, we know that the law is still a rewarding and valuable career,” she said.


The report showed that the mean age for women is 39 years, while it is 46 years for men. For the past 11 years, the mean age of Australian solicitors, in general, has been 42 — a trend that remains stable over time as more and more young lawyers enter the profession.

Almost half of all solicitors were aged between 25 and 39 years (47 per cent). Solicitors in the Northern Territory and ACT were slightly younger (42 years old), and those in NSW and South Australia were slightly older (43 years old).

Two in five female solicitors were aged under 35 (40 per cent), compared to just over a quarter of male solicitors (29 per cent). Conversely, 13 per cent of all male solicitors were aged 65 years and older compared to only 3 per cent of females. Although slightly higher than the previous report’s numbers (2 per cent), showing that women are still leaving the profession much earlier than men.

The release of the report also follows a recent Asia-Pacific Small Business Survey, which showed that Australian small businesses have a clear absence of young business owners.

According to the survey, 36 per cent of small-business owners across the country were aged over 50 — the highest percentage in the Asia-Pacific region. When it comes to business owners under 40, Australia placed ninth out of 11.

At the time, CPA Australia business and investment policy senior manager Gavan Ord said that the survey results portray a concerning future for the Australian economy.

“Where have all the young business owners gone? They’re ‘Generation MIA’ when it comes to small businesses,” he said.

“Australia has been ranked among the worst in Asia-Pacific for attracting young people into small business ownership since we started our survey in 2009. We need the federal government to launch a public inquiry to find out what is stopping young people from launching businesses.

“The survey results show that young business owners and founders are a necessary ingredient for Australia’s economic future, our digital capabilities and future innovations. We need Australians of all ages running and owning small businesses. Diversity brings huge benefits to the economy. The absence of young people has long-term implications.”

Despite this, the 2022 National Profile of Solicitors report notes that since 2014, there have been large increases in the proportion of solicitors at both ends of the age spectrum. The proportion of solicitors aged 65 years and older has increased by 77 per cent, while the proportion of solicitors aged 24 years and younger has grown by 34 per cent.

Two in five (40 per cent) of Australian solicitors have been admitted for 15 years or more, while 40 per cent had been admitted for five years or less. This has remained relatively stable since 2011, with only small shifts.

There was a larger proportion of solicitors admitted for 15 years or more working in the corporate legal sector (47 per cent) compared to private practice (41 per cent), the government legal sector (34 per cent) and the community legal sector (23 per cent). The proportion of those who had been admitted for one year or less was highest in the community legal sector (15 per cent), followed by private practice (12 per cent) and the government legal sector (11 per cent).

Two-thirds of solicitors work in private practice, with 21 per cent of those being aged under 30 and 16 per cent being over 60. There were 16,514 private practices across Australia, with 84 per cent of them being sole practices.

“I think what this data shows is that the law is a really attractive profession for women and men, but it’s becoming more attractive for females, and that female solicitors can see a really rewarding career at all stages,” Ms Stewart added.

“And whilst perhaps they were leaving five to eight years post-admission, that may not be the case anymore. Australian solicitors are younger, more female, and they’re more diverse.”

Following the last National Profile of Solicitors report in 2021, a number of legal executives discussed the rise of the sole practitioner — a trend that has remained in this year’s report, with two-fifths of solicitors working in sole practices.

As previously reported by Lawyers Weekly, lawyers may leave larger firms to become sole practitioners for equity reasons or for a better, more flexible lifestyle.

And according to the latest Legal Firm of Choice Survey, when asked if they plan to leave their current employers in the next year, one in four (27 per cent) of private practice respondents said that they plan to leave their firms. Of this, 3 per cent said they would start their own firms.

The attraction and retention of talent has been one of the highest-rated challenges for a number of years within the Australian legal industry, with the war for talent only continuing in 2023 and mid-level lawyers and senior associates in particularly high demand.

However, Ms Stewart added that female lawyers, in particular, are now more likely to stay in the law for longer as gender parity and equity measures remain of high priority.

“Firms — and people who make key decisions — are now understanding the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce in attracting the right talent, retaining the right talent, productivity, engagement and competitive advantage,” Ms Stewart said.

“I think that over a number of years, firms, particularly in private practice, are seeing the importance of that.”

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