New Zealand Law Society - Similarities between NZ and Australian solicitor demographics

Similarities between NZ and Australian solicitor demographics

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Women now outnumber men practising as solicitors in both New Zealand and Australia.

The Law Society of New South Wales has released a report, the 2016 National Profile of Solicitors in Australia, which it commissioned on behalf of the Conference of Law Societies.

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The report updates two earlier national profiles, which were released in 2011 and 2014. It shows that of the 71,509 practising solicitors in Australia, 50.1% - 35,799 - were women and 49.9% - 35,710 - were men.

New Zealand barristers and solicitors can be directly compared with Australian solicitors in that they are able to carry out all the functions of solicitors.

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New Zealand Law Society data shows that at 3 July 2017, there were 12,353 New Zealand-based lawyers. Of these, 11,027 were barristers and solicitors (as opposed to barristers sole/Queen's Counsel) and 5547 (50.3%) of the barristers and solicitors were women.

The 1326 barristers sole in New Zealand comprised 810 men (61.1%) and 516 women.

Overall, of lawyers practising in New Zealand (barristers and solicitors and barristers sole), 6290 (50.9%) were men and 6063 (49.1%) were women.

Australian report key outcomes and New Zealand comparison

The Australian report shows information at October 2016, and it notes that due to variations between states, the scope of the data is limited in some jurisdictions. The New Zealand data used in the following comparison is at 3 July 2017 and therefore is close but not exactly comparable. Lawyers practising in New Zealand as barristers and solicitors will be referred to as "solicitors".

Number of solicitors

The Australian report says the Australian legal profession is experiencing significant growth. It says that over the last five years there has been a 24.2% increase in the number of practising solicitors. It says this increase was observed across all states and territories.

In the five years between 2012 and 2017 in New Zealand, the number of solicitors grew from 9877 to 11,027 - 11.6%. Growth was not even across the country, measured by New Zealand Law Society branches. Solicitor numbers increased the most in Waikato Bay of Plenty (23.1%), followed closely by Canterbury-Westland (21.8%). In two branch areas there was a decrease in solicitor numbers.

New Zealand Law Society branches, growth in solicitor numbers, 2012 to 2017: Waikato Bay of Plenty (23.1%), Canterbury-Westland (21.8%), Auckland (15.1%), Nelson (14.6%), Whanganui (12.5%), Manawatu (12.2%), Gisborne (9.6%), Southland (3.1%), Wellington (1.7%), Otago (0.3%), Hawke's Bay (0.0%), Taranaki (-8.5%), Marlborough (-10.0%).


There are now equal numbers of men and women solicitors in Australia. "This in large part reflects the significant growth in the number of female lawyers entering the profession," the report says, noting that in October 2016, women comprised 60% of solicitors admitted to practice for five years or less.

Australia has gone from women making up 46.3% of solicitors in 2011 to them comprising 50.1% in 2016. Female solicitors had the strongest representation in the Northern Territory and ACT, while males were most strongly represented in Tasmania.

The situation is similar in New Zealand. Of the 2442 solicitors who had been admitted to practice for five years or less at 3 July 2017, 1516 (62.1%) were women.

As stated above, New Zealand had 11,027 solicitors at 3 July 2017, with 5547 (50.3%) women. In 2012, of the 9877 solicitors in New Zealand, 4536 (45.9%) were women. The number of women solicitors has grown by 22.3% in the five years since 2012. Male solicitor numbers have gone from 5341 in 2012 to 5480 in 2017 - an increase of just 2.6%.

There are now a significant number of New Zealand population centres where women solicitors outnumber men. A full report on (all) lawyer numbers in the 49 centres with over 10 lawyers will be published in the August issue of LawTalk. The following shows the five centres where there are 10 or more solicitors with the highest and lowest proportions of female solicitors:

Highest proportion of female solicitors, 3 July 2017: Queenstown (69.7%), Whakatane (64.1%), Porirua (61.0%), Te Awamutu (60.7%), Paraparaumu (58.6%).

Lowest proportion of female solicitors, 3 July 2017: Matamata (26.3%), Warkworth (35.3%), Palmerston North (39.6%), Napier (41.3%), Hawera (41.7%).


The average age of Australian solicitors in 2016 was 42.4 years, the report says. This was slightly older than in 2011 (41.8 years). South Australia (43.7) and Tasmania (43.5) had slightly older solicitors on average while the ACT (40.7) and Northern Territory (40.8) had slightly younger solicitors on average.

The average age in 2016 of Australian female solicitors was 38.8 years, while it was 46.0 years for males.

The Law Society does not hold age information for all New Zealand solicitors, but has a birth date for 77% of solicitors. At 3 July 2017 the average age of a New Zealand solicitor was 40.5 years - slightly younger than the average Australian solicitor.

The average age of New Zealand female solicitors was 37.8 years, and it was 44.3 years for males.

Years since admission

At October 2016, 39.2% of Australian solicitors had been admitted for 15 years or longer, with 18.7% admitted for 2 to 5 years and 18.5% for 6 to 10 years.

At 3 July 2017, 47.7% of New Zealand solicitors had been admitted for 15 years or longer - a noticeable difference from the Australian statistic. Of this group, 61.2% were men. At the other end of the spectrum New Zealand had lower numbers of newer solicitors than Australia, as 11.1% had been admitted for 2 to 5 years, with 16.0% having been admitted for 6 to 10 years.

Employment sector

Around 69% of Australian solicitors worked in private practice at October 2016, with 15.9% working in the corporate sector and 10.0% in government. Most private practice solicitors (54.7%) were male, but 63.9% of solicitors in government and 57.2% in corporate were female.

In the five years between 2011 and 2016, there was a steady increase in solicitors working in all major sectors, with the biggest increases in "other" sectors (124.7%), followed by corporate (59.4%), government (34.2%) and then private practice (17.2%).

New Zealand does not have state governments, but the proportion of in-house solicitors is still larger than Australia - although the 5% of solicitors classified as "other" in Australia work in union, employer, academic and related sectors which are included as in-house in New Zealand. At 3 July 2017, 75.4% of New Zealand solicitors were in private practice and the remaining 24.6% were in-house solicitors (working across the government, corporate and "other" sectors). A high 52% of in-house solicitors (12.8% of all solicitors) work in the government sector, with 36.6% working in the corporate sector (9.0% of all solicitors).

Of New Zealand in-house solicitors, 60.8% are women, while 46.9% of New Zealand solicitors in private practice are women.

In the five years between 2012 and 2017, the number of in-house solicitors in New Zealand has grown by 19.3%, while solicitors working in private practice have grown by 9.3%.

Law Firms

The Australian report says in October 2016, 73% of private practice firms were sole practitioners (firms with one principal), followed by 19% comprising firms with 2 to 4 partners, and 4.9% comprising firms with 5 to 10 partners. Firms with 11 or more partners made up 3% of Australian firms.

There were 15,539 law firms in Australia at October 2016, which was up from 10,632 firms in 2011

New Zealand Law Society statistics have defined sole practices as firms with just one lawyer, meaning a direct comparison using previously published information is not possible. Recalculating NZLS information law firms as at 1 February 2017, firms defined by the Australian report as "sole practice" made up 70.3% of New Zealand private practice firms - very close to the Australian number.

New Zealand law firms with 2 to 4 partners made up 23.8% of all New Zealand firms - higher than the Australian proportion, while 5 to 9 partner firms were 4.4% (very close to Australia) and the 30 firms with 11 or more partners in New Zealand made up the remaining 1.5% of firms.

Employment Locations

Over half of Australia's solicitors - 52.7% - were practising within a capital city at October 2016, with one-third (32.7% practising in a suburban location and 10.5% practising in a country or rural area.

New Zealand's solicitors tend to be distributed according to population. Just under four-fifths (79.6%) are found in six centres, with 42.6% in the Auckland Council area, 19% in Wellington (of whom 52.5% are in-house), 9.7% in Christchurch, 3.9% in Hamilton, 2.3% in Tauranga and 2.1% in Dunedin.

How does this work out on a per-head basis?

Different systems of government and other factors mean any comparison between New Zealand and Australia has a few "buts" - and the Australian data is also getting on for a year old. However, taking the latest population of each country (New Zealand having passed 4.8 million today according to Statistics New Zealand's Population Clock), the following comparisons are made:

Measure New Zealand Australia
Offical Population Clock 4,800,078 24,593,752
People per solicitor 435.3 343.9
People per law firm 2465.4 1582.7
% Female solicitors 50.3% 50.1%
% Male solicitors 49.7% 49.9%
Average age women 37.8 years 38.8 years
Average age men 44.3 years 46.0 years
Private practice 75.4% 69%
In-house 24.6% 31%
One-principal firms 70.3% 73%
2-4 partner firms 23.8% 19%
5-10 partner firms 4.4% 4.9%
11+ partner firms 1.5% 3%
Admitted for 15+ years 47.7% 39.2%

So how many barristers are there in Australia?

Information on Australian barristers is harder to obtain than for solicitors. Each state, plus the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory, has its own bar association and each bar association has a differing approach to information provision. The New South Wales Bar Association - like its Law Society counterpart - is far ahead of the rest, and there are 2,321 barristers in the state (with 78.1% of them men). Victoria has "some 2,000 barristers", Northern Territory "over 50", Tasmania 43, Western Australia around 200, Queensland and South Australia unknown - meaning there are probably about 5,000 to 6,000 barristers in Australia.

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