Law firms need to change the way they operate to encourage more women to stay in the legal profession.
That is the view of NSW Law Society President Stuart Westgarth, who told Lawyers Weekly that the promotion and retention of women within law firms remains a major issue within the legal profession.
"Undoubtedly the figures would lead to the conclusion that there are issues with the culture of law firms," he said. "There is a difference between the number of senior women in private practice law firms compared with the number of women in senior in-house counsel roles or in government positions which could suggest that different cultures exist in these different categories."
In May, statistics released by the Law Society of NSW showed that the number of female lawyers in NSW had increased by 452 per cent between 1988 and 2010, with 46 per cent of lawyers currently practising in the state being female. However, just over 23 per cent of principals in law firms with more than 20 partners are women, while firms with two to 20 partners have only 18 per cent of women in senior positions.
Throughout July, Westgarth hosted a number of panel discussions and meetings with prominent female members of the legal profession, such as Freehills partner Philippa Stone and the deputy chairman of ASIC and former Mallesons Stephen Jaques partner Belinda Gibson.
This culminated in the law society launching a "Though Leadership" initiative aimed an encouraging the advancement and retention of women in the profession on 29 July.
Westgarth said the Thought Leadership program did not set benchmarks or percentage figures of senior females within the profession, but was designed to promote change and discussion.
"The figures are so bad that we want to engage in a strategy that produces long-term changes," he said. "By discussing it, publishing a document and then continuing to discuss what is published, we thought that process would make people think about the issue and what they might do to affect that change."