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Spotlight on Law Firms

23 May 2017 - By Geoff Adlam

New Zealand has over 1,900 privately-owned organisations from which practising lawyers provide legal services. Over half of these have just one practising lawyer. At 1 February 2017 a total of 8,139 lawyers worked in law firms – 64% of all New Zealand-based lawyers. In the information below, law firms with one partner or director but which employ other lawyers, are considered separately from sole practice.

Law firms at 1 February 2017 by number of partners/directors (branches consolidated)

Partners/Directors

Firms

PC*

Partners/Directors

PC per Partner/Director

20+

14

1805

479

3.8

10 to 19

17

602

231

2.6

4 to 9

147

1855

782

2.4

1 to 3

775

2883

1282

2.2

Sole practice

994

994

994

1.0

Total

1947

8139

3768

2.2

*Practising Certificates

The number of law firms has increased by 7% over the past five years, while the number of lawyers working in law firms has increased by 8%. Over that time the total number of New Zealand-based lawyers has risen by 10%.

Law firms at 1 February 2013 by number of partners/directors (branches consolidated)

Partners/Directors

Firms

PC*

Partners/Directors

PC per Partner/Director

20+

10

1673

405

4.1

10 to 19

18

663

237

2.7

4 to 9

143

1665

765

2.2

1 to 3

734

2630

1229

2.1

Sole practice

916

916

916

1.0

Total

1821

7517

3552

2.1

Practising certificate holders

When law firms are considered by the number of practising lawyers, it shows that 1.1% of New Zealand’s law firms are the workplace for 26.1% of lawyers who work in law firms.

Law firms at 1 February 2017 by number of practising certificates (branches consolidated)

Practising certificates

Number

Total PCs

% Firms

% PCs

200+

2

415

0.1%

5.1%

100 to 199

7

1071

0.4%

13.2%

50 to 99

6

372

0.3%

4.6%

40 to 49

6

261

0.3%

3.2%

30 to 39

8

267

0.4%

3.3%

20 to 29

23

528

1.2%

6.5%

10 to 19

101

1325

5.2%

16.3%

6 to 9

140

986

7.2%

12.1%

2 to 5

660

1920

33.9%

23.6%

1

994

994

51.1%

12.2%

Total

1947

8139

  

Gender

While women make up over half of the total lawyers in New Zealand's biggest law firms, they comprise fewer than 30% of the partners and directors.

Gender of Partners/Directors and Practising Certificates by Firm Size, 1 February 2017
Partners/DirectorsPartners/DirectorsPractising Certificates
 MaleFemale% FemaleMaleFemale% Female
20+35812125.3%87293351.7%
10 to 191686327.3%29630650.8%
4 to 958819424.8%101584045.3%
1 to 389039230.6%1510137347.6%
Sole Practice65234234.4%65234234.4%
Total2656111229.5%4345379446.6%

Firm structure

Law firms have been able to incorporate since the Lawyers and Conveyancers Act 2006 came into force. There has been a steady growth in the number of incorporated firms, although incorporation is still very much an action taken by smaller firms. The largest incorporated law firm currently has eight partners/directors. At 1 February 2014, just 18.7% of law firms were incorporated, compared to 27.4% now.

Law firms at 1 February 2017 by structure (branches consolidated)

Partners/Directors

Incorporated

% Incorporated

Partnership

% Partnership

10+

0

0.0%

31

100%

4 to 9

28

19.0%

119

81.0%

1 to 3

276

35.6%

499

64.4%

Sole practice

230

23.1%

764

76.9%

Total

534

27.4%

1413

72.6%

In the firms with more than one lawyer, there are an average of 4.5 practising certificates for each incorporated firm and an average of 8.9 practising certificates for partnerships.

Age and experience

A minimum level of experience and completion of the Stepping Up programme is required before a lawyer is able to practise on own account, a prerequisite for becoming a partner, director or sole practitioner. While the average ages of partners and directors are very close, directors tend to have been practising for a shorter period than partners. This is probably reflective of the fact that smaller firms are more likely to be incorporated and the path to partnership/directorship may be shorter. Sole practitioners have the oldest average age and longest average time in practice.

While lawyers employed by law firms tend to be younger, the data is affected by the inclusion of consultants - who have often been partners or directors – before scaling down their practice and becoming employees.

Average age of lawyers in firms, 1 February 2017

Role

Male

Female

Director

50 years 6 months

45 years 5 months

Partner

50 years 6 months

45 years 0 months

Sole Practitioner

59 years 7 months

51 years 5 months

Employee

37 years 0 months

33 years 8 months

All NZ Lawyers

45 years 3 months

38 years 3 months

Average years since admission, 1 February 2017

Role

Male

Female

Director

24 years 8 months

17 years 3 months

Partner

28 years 1 month

21 years 1 months

Sole Practitioner

33 years 8 months

23 years 11 months

Employee

12 years 3 months

8 years 3 months

All NZ Lawyers

21 years 10 months

13 years 2 months

Law firm locations

The information in this analysis includes law firm branches and shows the size by number of practising certificates of all law firms in a population centre. Law firms with one practising certificate are not necessarily sole practices as they may be a branch of a firm in another location.

Law firms by location, 1 February 2017 (includes branches)

Location

1

2-5

6-9

10-19

20-49

50-99

100+

Total

Auckland

422

273

59

43

12

3

6

818

Wellington

107

65

19

6

9

4

 

210

Christchurch

74

57

14

16

7

2

 

170

Hamilton

45

39

3

3

4

  

94

Dunedin

22

20

5

3

2

  

52

Nelson

30

13

6

2

   

51

Tauranga

25

16

4

1

3

  

49

Lower Hutt

27

12

 

4

   

43

Rotorua

22

16

2

1

   

41

Palmerston North

16

12

2

2

   

32

All Others

275

218

35

27

3

0

0

558

New Zealand

1065

741

149

108

40

9

6

2118

Last updated on the 11th August 2017