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The New Zealand legal employment map

07 June 2019 - By Geoff Adlam

It’s not surprising that a much higher proportion of lawyers can be found in our seven major urban areas than the whole country’s population. They are the headquarters of businesses and government agencies, the powerhouses for major projects, and also the catchment of the largest groups of consumers with their legal needs. While 53% of New Zealanders live in those centres, 79% of practising lawyers are found there – and that means that almost four in five lawyer jobs repose in seven centres. An even higher proportion of new lawyers work in these centres – 86% of lawyers working in their first five years of practice and 84% of those with 6-10 years’ experience.

In contrast, around 745,000 New Zealanders live in rural areas – where the local population does not go above 1,000. This is 16% of our population. However, just 0.3% of New Zealand’s lawyers can be found in rural areas. That works out at one rural lawyer for every 20,161 rural people – but we don’t have the problems places like Australia have, and most rural dwellers probably don’t have too far to go to the nearest town with lawyers. And, of course, online legal services are now more and more accessible. Jobs for lawyers, however, seem to closely map to the larger population centres.

When it comes to location of workplace by population size, there are some differences within lawyers. You’re likely to find more female lawyers in the biggest urban areas and more male lawyers within the next biggest centres – but there is not much of a contrast.

There are far bigger differences when it comes to the proportion of lawyers in different-sized urban areas by years in practice. Just 7.4% of the male lawyers in small urban areas are in the 0 to 5-year practice band. But 19.7% of the women lawyers working in small urban areas have 0 to 5 years' experience. However, an increasing proportion of the male lawyers working in small urban areas have spent longer in practice alongside a decreasing proportion of female lawyers. So, of all male lawyers who work in small urban areas, 36.4% have been in practice for more than 40 years; but just 1.3% of female lawyers in small urban areas have practised for that time.

The differences between men and women can be partly explained by the proportion of women entering the profession – now over 60% of new lawyers, but just 7% of lawyers in 1980.

The information in the following tables uses Statistics New Zealand’s 2018 Statistical Standard for Geographic Areas. This has four classes of urban area – Major urban areas with a population of 100,000 or more, Large urban areas with a population of 30,000 to 99,999, Medium urban areas with a population of 10,000 to 29,999 and Small urban areas with a population of 1,000 to 9,999.

Note that data for lawyers in their first year after admission is shown, but these lawyers are also included in the “0 to 5” column.

New Zealand-based lawyers at 1 May 2019, by years since admission

Centre<10 to 56 to 1011 to 2021 to 3031 to 4040-plusTotal
Major urban5832,5231,6463,0542,0641,23778111,305
Large urban562171543082421501351,206
Medium urban291261091801038985692
Small urban146152127715382446

Lawyers per head by urban area (1 May 2019)

AreaNumberEst population, 30 June 2018LawyersPeople/ Lawyer
Major urban72,574,10011,305228
Large urban13672,3001,206557
Medium urban22396,550692573
Small urban136466,6004461046
Rural 745,9503720,161
Total 4,885,50013,686357


CentreMajor UrbanLarge UrbanMedium UrbanSmall UrbanRural
0 to 586.1%7.4%4.3%2.1%0.1%
6 to 1083.8%7.8%5.5%2.6%0.2%
11 to 2083.1%8.4%4.9%3.5%0.2%
21 to 3082.9%9.7%4.1%2.9%0.4%
31 to 4080.5%9.8%5.8%3.5%0.5%
40 plus71.7%12.4%7.8%7.5%0.6%


CentreMajor UrbanLarge UrbanMedium UrbanSmall UrbanRural
0 to 585.1%7.3%4.9%2.4%0.2%
6 to 1083.3%7.6%6.1%2.9%0.1%
11 to 2081.9%8.6%5.1%4.2%0.2%
21 to 3082.1%10.1%4.6%2.9%0.1%
31 to 4082.4%8.7%5.1%3.6%0.2%
40 plus85.7%2.6%6.5%3.9%1.3%


CentreMajor UrbanLarge UrbanMedium UrbanSmall UrbanRural
0 to 587.7%7.5%3.2%1.5%0.1%
6 to 1084.6%8.3%4.7%2.2%0.3%
11 to 2084.7%8.1%4.6%2.4%0.2%
21 to 3083.8%9.3%3.6%2.8%0.4%
31 to 4079.6%10.3%6.1%3.4%0.6%
40 plus70.7%13.1%7.9%7.8%0.5%


Centre<10 to 56 to 1011 to 2021 to 3031 to 4040 plusTotal
Major Urban5.2%22.3%14.6%27.0%18.3%10.9%6.9%100%
Large Urban4.6%18.0%12.8%25.5%20.1%12.4%11.2%100%
Medium Urban4.2%18.2%15.8%26.0%14.9%12.9%12.3%100%
Small Urban3.1%13.7%11.7%28.5%15.9%11.9%18.4%100%


Centre<10 to 56 to 1011 to 2021 to 3031 to 4040 plusTotal
Major Urban6.6%26.7%16.9%30.8%17.5%6.9%1.1%100%
Large Urban6.1%23.0%15.4%32.3%21.7%7.3%0.3%100%
Medium Urban5.8%24.9%20.0%31.0%15.9%6.8%1.4%100%
Small Urban4.4%19.7%15.3%40.2%15.7%7.9%1.3%100%


Centre<10 to 56 to 1011 to 2021 to 3031 to 4040 plusTotal
Major Urban3.6%17.6%12.0%22.9%19.0%15.3%13.2%100%
Large Urban3.2%13.2%10.3%19.2%18.5%17.3%21.5%100%
Medium Urban2.4%10.7%11.0%20.5%13.8%19.6%24.5%100%
Small Urban1.8%7.4%7.8%16.1%16.1%16.1%36.4%100%


Last updated on the 7th June 2019