While many New Zealand law firms now take a gender-neutral approach to promoting lawyers, there is evidence that men may still receive preference in some firms, New Zealand Law Society President Chris Moore says.
"It appears that men are more likely to be partners or directors in law firms than are women right from the outset.
"Law Society figures show that 6.3% of male lawyers in law firms in their first 10 years of practice are partners or directors. However, just 3.2% of female lawyers in their first 10 years are partners or directors.
"Just under 32% of women lawyers in firms who have practised for 10 to 19 years are partners or directors, but 58% of male lawyers with the same experience are partners or directors."
Mr Moore says there are obviously many reasons for the difference and it is clear that more women are moving into senior and leadership positions in New Zealand law firms than previously was the case.
"However, on International Women's Day 2016 the disappointing fact remains that while 48% of all lawyers in our law firms are women, just 21% of women are partners or directors while 52% of men are."
Mr Moore says 61% of new lawyers every year are women, and the underrepresentation of women in senior legal roles is a real issue for the profession.
"The Law Society has decided that it must take practical steps to change the situation. It is our duty to not only discuss but address the reasons why women are leaving the legal profession and are underrepresented in leadership positions.
"This extends to barristers, with a need not just for more women Queen's Counsel, but for more women to apply for this important role."
The Law Society has established a national Women's Advisory Panel and this will have its first meeting on 21 March. The panel is chaired by the Law Society President and will aim to deliver tangible initiatives.
"We will be looking at things which have been tried overseas and in other New Zealand occupations. We will investigate unconscious bias training, how to encourage men to champion change, and programmes such as gender audits and equitable briefing policies," Mr Moore says.
"Make no mistake; there is a real determination to move past expressing concern to implementing real actions and changing the way things are. The Law Society believes that all lawyers must accept the need for change."