26/08/2019 - 14:03

Legal sector lagging on growth, gender

26/08/2019 - 14:03

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The number of solicitors in Western Australia has fallen by 10 per cent over the past four years compared with growth of 15 per cent across the country as a whole, a survey has found.

Legal sector lagging on growth, gender
Kathy Reid and Matthew Knox hold leadership roles at a national and state level, respectively. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

The number of solicitors in Western Australia has fallen by 10 per cent over the past four years compared with growth of 15 per cent across the country as a whole, a survey has found.

The survey also found the number of female solicitors is growing much faster than males – up 49 per cent since 2011 versus 19 per cent growth for men.

As a result of these growth trends, females comprised 52 per cent of all solicitors in Australia in October 2018 – the first time that women have outnumbered men.

This pattern was repeated in every state and territory, with the exception of WA where the gender mix was 50:50.

The ‘National Profile of Solicitors’ survey was commissioned by the Law Society and compiled by research group Urbis.

It found there were 76,303 solicitors practising in Australia as at October last year – up 33 per cent since 2011.

WA has just 7 per cent of the national total, with 5,080 solicitors – well below the state’s per capita share of more than 10 per cent.

MinterEllison WA managing partner Matthew Knox said he had observed a growing number of females coming into the profession for several years.

He believes the sector is at the crest of a wave, with female solicitors likely to take more senior roles in coming years.

“There is a big focus on workplace culture, that includes working flexibly and working out of the office,” Mr Knox said.

He said 8 per cent of MinterEllison’s Australian partners worked part time.

“That’s genuine part time,” Mr Knox told Business News.

“The firm has put in place a program to support those people, with other partners supporting them.”

The Perth office has three senior female solicitors employed as consultants, giving them more flexibility.

Kathy Reid, who joined MinterEllison in 2016, is one of four female partners in the Perth office and has recently been appointed to the firm’s national board.

The survey showed that the legal sector in WA has gone through the same boom-bust cycle as the mining and energy sectors.

The number of solicitors in WA grew by 40 per cent in the three years to 2014, peaking at 5,666 at the height of the resources construction boom, but has shrunk since then.

The number fell by 4 per cent in the two years to 2016 and by 6 per cent in the two years to 2018.

The survey found that 76 per cent of WA solicitors work in private practice – a higher proportion than for any other state or territory. The national figure was 69 per cent.

Conversely, only 5 per cent of WA solicitors work for government, which is the lowest figure of any state or territory, and well below the national figure of 12 per cent.

The proportion of WA solicitors working in the corporate sector (12 per cent) was also below the national figure.

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