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40k solicitors now practising in NSW

The number of solicitors practising in NSW is now bigger than ever — and remains increasingly female — the 2022 Annual Profile of Solicitors NSW has revealed.

user iconLauren Croft 30 June 2023 Big Law
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The 2022 Annual Profile of Solicitors NSW, released today (Friday, 30 June), is compiled by consulting firm Urbis and a voluntary survey of solicitors when renewing their practising certificates.

As at October 2022, when the report was compiled, there were 38,265 solicitors with a practising certificate in NSW. However, in the first quarter of 2023, the NSW solicitor population passed the milestone of 40,000.

President of the Law Society of NSW Cassandra Banks welcomed the growth of 3 per cent in the number of solicitors with NSW practising certificates since the 2021 profile. The data captured on 31 October 2022 shows NSW had 38,265 solicitors. For the sixth year running, females outnumbered males in the profession. In 2022, this was by 54 to 46 per cent — the same proportion as in 2021.

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“I’m happy to reveal that, in the first quarter of this year, the number of solicitors holding NSW practising certificates passed 40,0000,” she said,

“This milestone demonstrates that the law continues to attract those who are driven to make meaningful contributions to their communities.”

Consistent with the results of the 2022 National Profile of Solicitors published in May, NSW’s private practice sector, which employs 68 per cent of the state’s solicitors, is now gender-balanced.

“While the overall private practice numbers are even, this profile shows a pleasing, if gradual, increase in the proportion of women who hold principal or partner roles to 35 per cent (up 2 per cent from last year). In 2013, only 24 per cent of these leadership roles in private practice were female,” Ms Banks said.

“Majority female employment has continued in the corporate (62 per cent) and government (69 per cent) legal sectors. I’m heartened by the achievement in these sectors of gender equity in leadership, as women now hold a slight majority of group general counsel and head of legal team positions (corporate, 52 per cent, and government, 53 per cent).”

However, while the NSW private practice sector is now gender-balanced, the gender pay gap still persists.

“The problem is that there’s still that gender pay gap. It doesn’t matter what sector you’re in or years since admission, it’s still there. So, we really need to work hard to resolve that,” she said.

“To work out what’s happening and work out how to move forward and eliminate that, ultimately, that’s the goal. So, the Law Society is really committed to supporting more firms and the different sectors of the profession to address this imbalance.”

Following this, the Law Society of NSW is set to launch a guide in August with a goal of improving equitable remuneration in the legal profession.

“Firms who’ve signed the Law Society’s Charter for the Advancement of Women and other leading firms have contributed to the document, in concert with our diversity and inclusion committee,” Ms Banks said.

“Their work has been critical to addressing one of my President’s Priorities for 2023 of working on closing the gender pay gap and recognising equitable workplace arrangements. I’m also grateful for the valuable work of my predecessor, Joanne van der Plaat, for the progress she made towards this goal.”

In preparation for the launch of the guide, the Law Society will highlight actions firms can take to recognise that gender equality makes sense both as a value and a business imperative. These include increasing transparency around compensation and promoting flexible work arrangements, which can benefit everyone in the workplace.

“Having aspirations is one thing, but actually committing to how to achieve them with targets is a really effective way towards closing that gender pay gap. And it requires setting targets that are transparent, achievable, and making sure that someone is accountable or different people are accountable within the firm’s leadership to get there,” Ms Banks told Lawyers Weekly.

“The only thing is increasing transparency around compensation. I think the legal profession has always been quite secretive about that. And if we can change that culture, and publish pay gap data, and how bonuses are applied, that is only going to help eliminate that gender pay gap in the future.”

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is evident at all ages. For solicitors 24 years or younger, 11 per cent of male respondents reported incomes of $100,001 to $150,000, compared to 4 per cent of females. This grew slightly in the 30 to 34 age bracket, where 61 per cent of females reported incomes of $150,000 or less compared to 58 per cent of males.

For solicitors aged 35 to 39, thirty-eight per cent of male respondents reported incomes of over $200,000, compared to 28 per cent of females. And for solicitors aged 40 to 49, thirty-five per cent of male solicitors reported incomes of over $250,000 compared to 24 per cent of females.

Moreover, over a quarter of males reported earning more than $200,000 (28 per cent), compared to 19 per cent of females.

Age

The average age of all solicitors in NSW as at 31 October 2022 was 42.7 years old, in line with last year’s result (42.6 years). In 2022, 49 per cent of all solicitors in NSW were aged under 40 years, and 15 per cent of solicitors were aged 60 years or older.

The average age of female solicitors was 39.8 years, compared to 46.1 years for males. Further, 56 per cent of female solicitors were aged under 40 years old compared to 40 per cent of male solicitors. Eighty-five per cent of females were aged under 50 years old, compared to 61 per cent of males.

Interestingly, 22 per cent of male solicitors were aged 60 years or older, compared to only 7 per cent of females.

Gender

In 2022, female solicitors outnumbered male solicitors for the sixth consecutive year. Of all NSW solicitors, 54 per cent were female, and 46 per cent were male.

Since 1997, there has been steady growth in the overall number of solicitors; however, the growth rate of female solicitors has been consistently higher than the growth rate of male solicitors. Over this period, the number of female solicitors has grown approximately five times what it was originally, whereas the number of male solicitors has less than doubled.

More female solicitors in NSW were working in the corporate and government legal sectors (23 per cent and 15 per cent, respectively), compared to male solicitors (17 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively). Additionally, less than a third of female solicitors working in private practice were principals of their law practice (30 per cent), compared to more than half of males working in private practice (53 per cent).

Female solicitors were also generally younger than male solicitors, with 21 per cent aged under 30 compared to 14 per cent of male solicitors. Thirty-one per cent of females had been admitted as a solicitor for five years or less, compared to 23 per cent of males.

Years since admission

In 2022, 54 per cent of all NSW solicitors had been admitted for more than 10 years, and 39 per cent had been admitted for two to 10 years. Seven per cent had been admitted for one year or less as at 31 October 2022.

Of the 38,265 solicitors practising in NSW, only 7 per cent were first admitted as a solicitor outside NSW (including elsewhere in Australia or overseas).

Fifty-one per cent of male solicitors had been admitted for 15 years or more, compared to 37 per cent of female solicitors.

Diversity

Seventy per cent of NSW solicitors were born in Australia, and over a quarter (30 per cent) were born overseas. This data is consistent with recent years and in line with the general population of NSW. Based on 2021 census data, 29 per cent of all people living in NSW were born overseas.

Of the 11,514 solicitors born overseas, 42 per cent were born in Asia, 14 per cent were born in the UK and Ireland, and only 2 per cent were born in Canada or South America.

Just over one-fifth of NSW solicitors reported speaking another language other than English at home (22 per cent). This is lower than the general NSW population, where 27 per cent speak another language other than English. The most common languages spoken were Mandarin (19 per cent) and Cantonese (16 per cent).

There are 363 solicitors identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, representing 0.9 per cent of all solicitors in NSW. This is much lower than the general NSW population, with the 2021 census reporting 3.4 per cent of all people in NSW identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander. While this isn’t a step backwards for the profession, Ms Banks said it isn’t a step forwards.

“We need to focus on encouraging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to consider university and law as an option and make it accessible. And once they get through their degrees, offer support along the way to make sure that it is possible to complete a degree. And once they enter into the profession, and show that they’re appropriately supported, to be able to demonstrate to their families, their communities, that the law can be a really rewarding career,” she told Lawyers Weekly.

“Being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander can be an amazing contribution to our profession because we definitely need more people with more cultural diversity to be able to help our communities.”

Location

As at 31 October 2022, 49 per cent of all solicitors in NSW were working in the Sydney central business district, followed by a third working in suburban Sydney (33 per cent). Just over one in 10 were working in regional/rural areas of NSW (12 per cent), and 6 per cent were working either interstate or overseas.

According to the report, over the past 11 years, there has been minimal change in the workplace location of solicitors in NSW. The proportion of solicitors working in Sydney CBD has declined slightly, from 52 per cent in 2011 to 49 per cent in 2022. In contrast, the proportion working in suburban areas of Sydney has increased from 31 per cent in 2011 to 33 per cent in 2022. The proportion of solicitors working in regional/rural NSW, interstate and overseas has remained broadly consistent.

Of the 7,296 private law practices operating in NSW, half were located in suburban areas of Sydney and a quarter in Sydney CBD. A further 21 per cent were based in regional/rural NSW, and 4 per cent recorded their main address as interstate or overseas.

Types of practice

Over two-thirds of NSW solicitors were working in private practice (68 per cent) and one-fifth were working in the corporate legal sector (21 per cent). The remaining 12 per cent were working in the government legal sector.

The number of solicitors in private practice has increased from 17,091 in 2011 to 25,947 in 2022, with the corporate sector growing from 4,601 to 7,843 in the same period.

Two-fifths of private practice solicitors were principals (38 per cent), while 62 per cent were employees.

The annual gross income of private practice solicitors who responded to the 2022–23 Practising Certificate Survey was higher than that of respondents in the government legal sector but lower than that of respondents in the corporate legal sector. A fifth of respondents in private practice (22 per cent) reported earning over $200,000, compared to 36 per cent in corporate legal and 9 per cent in government legal.

Sixty-two per cent of private practices were sole practices, followed by law practices with one principal and employed solicitors (27 per cent). There were 16 private law practices with 40 or more principals (1,121 principals in total), which employed 3,405 solicitors. This represents 26 per cent of all non-principal solicitors working in private practice.

In October 2022, 20 per cent of private practice solicitors were working in less than 1 per cent of all private practices in NSW.

Lauren Croft

Lauren Croft

Lauren is a journalist at Lawyers Weekly and graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism from Macleay College. Prior to joining Lawyers Weekly, she worked as a trade journalist for media and travel industry publications and Travel Weekly. Originally born in England, Lauren enjoys trying new bars and restaurants, attending music festivals and travelling. She is also a keen snowboarder and pre-pandemic, spent a season living in a French ski resort.

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