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Census picture of lawyer ethnicity

10 October 2014

A snapshot of New Zealand’s legal profession on Tuesday 5 March 2013 shows that a higher proportion of lawyers were of European ethnicity than the working population of New Zealand.

Customised data provided by Statistics New Zealand to the New Zealand Law Society shows that the proportion of lawyers of Māori, Asian and Pacific descent was below the proportion of people of those ethnicities in the working population as a whole.

The “Asian” category used by Statistics New Zealand covers a very wide range of countries and ethnicities and it is not known what proportion of lawyers are of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian or other ethnicities.

There were also 2.3% of lawyers who gave their ethnicity as “New Zealander” (slightly above the 2.0% of the whole working population).

Ethnicity of New Zealand lawyers, Census, March 2013

Ethnicity

Female

Male

Total

European

87.2%

89.1%

88.3%

Asian

8.4%

6.0%

7.1%

Māori

7.7%

4.7%

6.1%

New Zealander

1.6%

2.9%

2.3%

Pacific Peoples

2.5%

1.8%

2.1%

Middle Eastern/Latin American/African

0.5%

0.4%

0.5%

Other

0.1%

0.1%

0.1%

Not elsewhere included

0.1%

0.4%

0.2%

Ethnicity of all New Zealanders 15 and over in employment, Census, March 2013

Ethnicity

Female

Male

Total

European

77.8%

76.0%

76.9%

Asian

11.0%

11.0%

11.0%

Māori

11.6%

10.9%

11.2%

New Zealander

1.5%

2.4%

2.0%

Pacific Peoples

4.9%

5.1%

5.0%

Middle Eastern/Latin American/African

0.9%

1.0%

1.0%

Other

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

Not elsewhere included

0.4%

0.6%

0.5%  

Barristers and Judges

One interesting feature of the data is the higher proportion of Māori barristers. While the proportion of barristers of European ethnicity (88%) is the same as for all lawyers, 9% of barristers were of Māori ethnicity – well ahead of the 6% of all lawyers. Pacific peoples also made up a higher proportion of barristers (3.2%) than of all lawyers (2.1%).

Gender is an important factor in barrister ethnicity, with the proportion of non-European women who work as barristers significantly higher than for all lawyers. While 91% of male barristers were of European ethnicity, 84% of female barristers were. The data shows that 13% of female barristers were of Māori ethnicity and 6% were Pacific Peoples – well above the comparable proportions for all female lawyers.

Members of the judiciary were more likely to be of European ethnicity, with 93% of judges in that category. A higher proportion of judges than lawyers were of Māori ethnicity, with 10.8% of judges being Māori.

Recruitment initiatives

The customised Statistics New Zealand data is not broken down by age and is frozen in time. It is quite likely that information on ethnicity by age would present a different picture. The Law Society collects information on the ethnicity of practising certificate holders, but this is voluntary. Just over 57% of lawyers provide information on their ethnicity to the Law Society.

An indication that the ethnic make-up of New Zealand’s legal profession is changing comes with information provided by Victoria University of Wellington on its law students in 2014. Using the Statistics New Zealand categories, the ethnic picture of law students at Victoria is much closer to that of the whole working population.

Victoria University of Wellington, Ethnicity of students enrolled in law in 2014

Ethnicity

Proportion

European

70.7%

Māori

11.8%

Asian

11.1%

Pacific

4.3%

Middle Eastern/Latin American/African

1.0%

Other

1.1%

Victoria University has an active focus on improving recruitment and support of non-European law students. Deputy law Dean Gordon Stewart says the university has enrolment targets for Māori and Pacific students.

“To facilitate achieving those targets, I have, this year, visited one school with a high Māori and Pasifika demographic, and spoken to students who might be interested in law as a university option. We have plans for other such initiatives,” he says.

Victoria also has targets for retention and degree completion by Māori and Pacific students. The law faculty has a full-time, permanent Māori Law Student Co-ordinator and a part-time permanent Pasifika Law Student Co-ordinator. They oversee support programmes which include mentoring, study skills workshops, and exam revision sessions.

The law faculty provides an additional tutorial programme for Māori and Pacific students enrolled in the core CLE courses. Mr Stewart says the faculty introduced the Pasifika Prose Project this year, with the objective of assisting Pacific students with writing skills and thereby improving their performance at law school.

Last updated on the 17th March 2016