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Are men aging out of the legal profession?

Law used to be a male-dominated profession, but with more women entering the profession than ever, will it soon be a female-dominated vocation? As one law society president notes, the declining number of men becoming lawyers may soon need to be investigated.

user iconLauren Croft 04 July 2023 Big Law
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The Law Society of NSW has released the 2022 Annual Profile of Solicitors NSW, with the profession in NSW now at 40,000 practising solicitors.

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.


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

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 — something the president of the Law Society of NSW, Cassandra Banks, welcomed.

“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,” she 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).”

This has, at least in part, to do with the rise in flexible and hybrid working and particularly relates back to the fact that female legal professionals are more likely to face the “motherhood penalty”, as well as be disproportionately impacted by inflation, not to mention the nine-to-five working week, which has been recently labelled “redundant” and “sexist”.

Many law firm leaders have also emphasised the importance of flexibility, particularly for working parents, as well as why mastering hybrid working will be key moving forward, especially in a candidate-driven market.

“COVID taught us some incredible lessons. And while it was a really difficult time for our entire community, we got some really good things from it. We learned that, yes, you can actually work remotely and be productive. And I think particularly for our profession, and for the courts before that, but that was pretty clear, we didn’t really understand that we could do it,” Ms Banks said.

“Now we know we can do it. It doesn’t take away the benefits of having that face-to-face interaction, particularly for early career lawyers, where you cannot replace the benefit of having that mentor relationship and learning on the job and seeing things happen in court. But the good things that have come out of COVID certainly make it easier, particularly for women, to be able to balance the commitments of home, the commitments of self-care, and also having a really fulfilling career.”

Ms Banks also said that “if you can see it, you can be it” — which is something she pushes and vehemently agrees with.

“The more that women can see other women doing something in their industry, they can tell themselves, ‘I can do that’. In this role as president of the Law Society, I didn’t set out to be a leader, when I came into the profession, it just organically happened. And it’s a real privilege to become a leader, whether you mentor or not, and have people say, ‘Oh, I saw that you did this. And now I know, I can do it’,” she added.

“So, we need to lead by example. And we need to encourage each other. And it’s not an agenda thing, necessarily, everyone needs to encourage each other to excel in their careers; we just need to make sure that it’s really clear how women can achieve that, given the historical challenges that we’ve faced.”

However, given the growing number of females entering the profession — and the subsequent increase in female legal leaders, Ms Banks said there’s also “a real risk” that men may age out of the legal profession altogether.

“If you look at the data, and females are a greater proportion of the profession, we need to be really mindful of that; we need to be really mindful that we could have the reverse problem in the not-too-distant future,” she added.

“So how do we address that? And we really need to go to the source of why is it that more women are joining a profession, but also, is there a decline in men? And is there a reason that will be researched later on? That’s something that’s on our radar. We could end up with a reverse problem.”