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Men still slightly outnumber women in NZ legal profession

19 October 2017 - By Geoff Adlam

There were 90 more male New Zealand-based lawyers than female lawyers in mid-October 2017, New Zealand Law Society information shows.

At 10 October 2017 of the 12,822 practising lawyers who work in New Zealand, 6456 (50.4%) were men and 6366 were women (49.6%).

With over 60% of new entrants to the legal profession women, and 91% of lawyers aged 70 or more men (who may be considering retirement), it is likely that there will be more practising women lawyers than men in a few months.

The number of new lawyers who were women first exceeded the number of new male admissions in 1993. At that time 24% of the 6450 practising lawyers were women. Since then the number of New Zealand-based lawyers has nearly doubled, but the number of female lawyers has increased by 311%. The number of male lawyers has gone up by 50%.

Types of practice

There are some major differences in the gender make-up profession when it comes to the nature of a lawyer's practice. Over 61% of barristers are male, but 61% of in-house lawyers are female. A high 69% of lawyers in sole practice (ie, in a firm with just one lawyer) are men.

There is a major difference between the sexes when it comes to law firms with more than one lawyer. While 61% of the employed lawyers in firms are women, just 30% of the partners are directors are women.

New Zealand-based lawyers at 10 October 2017

 FemaleMaleTotal% Female% Male% all Female% all Male% all Lawyers
Law firm employees28751814468961.3%38.7%45.2%28.1%36.6%
Law firm Directors33356089337.3%62.7%5.2%8.7%7.0%
Law firm Partners5221421194326.9%73.1%8.2%22.0%15.2%
Sole Practitioners31468299631.5%68.5%4.9%10.6%7.8%
Time in practice

The impact of more women entering the profession over the last three decades is shown dramatically when time since admission as a barrister and solicitor is considered. A high 43% of all women lawyers have been in practice for less than 10 years, compared to 27% of male lawyers. At the other end, 14% of male lawyers have been in practice for over 40 years; but just 1% of women have.

Years since admission as barrister and solicitor, New Zealand-based lawyers at 10 October 2017

 FemaleMaleTotal% Female% Male% all Female% all Male% all Lawyers
0 to 5 yrs1653997265062.4%37.6%26.0%15.4%20.7%
5 to 10 yrs1075733180859.5%40.5%16.9%11.4%14.1%
10 to 20 yrs20681448351658.8%41.2%32.5%22.4%27.4%
20 to 30 yrs11041277238146.4%53.6%17.3%19.8%18.6%
30 to 40 yrs4101075148527.6%72.4%6.4%16.7%11.6%
40+ yrs569269825.7%94.3%0.9%14.3%7.7%
Average age

The gender difference can be also seen in the average ages of lawyers in New Zealand. Across all types of practice the average male lawyer is older than the average female lawyer.

Average ages of New Zealand-based lawyers at 10 October 2017

 FemaleMaleAll Lawyers
Average age Barristers49 yrs 3 mths55 yrs 5 mths52 yrs 11 mths
Average age In-house39 yrs 11 mths41 yrs 11 mths40 yrs 7 mths
Average age Employees34 yrs 0 mths37 yrs 3 mths35 yrs 1 mth
Average age Directors45 yrs 8 mths51 yrs 3 mths48 yrs 11 mths
Average age Partners45 yrs 3 mths50 yrs 0 mths48 yrs 8 mths
Average age Sole Practitioners51 yrs 5 mths59 yrs 11 mths57 yrs 0 mths

Until 2017 provision of information on the ethnicity of lawyers has been voluntary. The New Zealand Law Society now requires lawyers to respond to a question on this when obtaining or renewing their practising certificate. Lawyers may refuse to state their ethnicity. The information collected shows that there are more women than men in all the most common ethnicities except "New Zealand European".

Most common ethnicity of New Zealand-based lawyers at 10 October 2017

EthnicityFemaleMaleTotal% Female% Male% all Female% all Male% all Lawyers
NZ European48145076989048.7%51.3%75.6%78.6%77.1%
Other European36934871751.5%48.5%5.8%5.4%5.6%
Other Asian1298821759.4%40.6%2.0%1.4%1.7%
Not Stated37940478348.4%51.6%6.0%6.3%6.1%
Lawyers based overseas

This information has focused on lawyers who practise in New Zealand. At 10 October 2017 there were a further 680 foreign-based lawyers holding practising certificates issued by the New Zealand Law Society. Of these 347 were men and 333 were women.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019