Of the total of 826 graduates hired by the 16 firms in Lawyer2B’s survey, 462 were female and 366 were male. This equates with 56 per cent of positions to women and only 44 per cent to men.
Only 4 of the 16 firms surveyed — Deacons, Mallesons, Middletons and Piper Alderman — have more male than female graduates, while TressCox has an even split.
Of the top tier, Blakes had the highest proportion of female graduates, with 65 per cent, followed by Freehills (62 per cent), Minter Ellison (60 per cent), Allens (55 per cent), Clayton Utz (55 per cent) and Mallesons (47 per cent). Freehills hired the most female graduates this year, totalling 68.
It remains to be seen just how long it will take for the increase in young female lawyers at Australian firms to translate into a greater proportion of female partners.
According to Rachael Duggan, manager of the private practice team at recruitment company Taylor Root, the proportion of females drops off considerably at the partner level, even though there are now more female partners than ever before.
Importantly though, Duggan said there are less graduates of either gender advancing to partner because of the abundance of options available to mid-level lawyers.
“For both males and females, in-house might be attractive, an overseas stint might be attractive, so it’s harder to retain the graduates all the way to partnership,” she said.
Far from being the fault of the law firms themselves, Duggan said they would love to see more female partners, but the problem is that young lawyers are spoilt for choice and are leaving to work elsewhere.
To keep female lawyers on board, Duggan said there is now an increase in the number of women being made partner during maternity leave. “I am aware of a number of partners who have been made up on maternity leave, which is pretty impressive,” she said. “It just acknowledges that it’s part and parcel — women do have to have the babies after all — but it’s not going to stop your career or your chance for promotion. I’ve definitely seen an increase in that trend.”