Report: A snapshot of Asian Australian diversity in the Australian legal profession

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Last night – Tuesday 14 April 2015 – saw the publication of “The Australian Legal Profession: A snapshot of Asian Australian diversity in 2015” (Report) an inaugural report prepared by the Asian Australian Lawyers Association.

At 8 pages, the Report is exactly what it says it is – a snapshot. Moreover, its a snapshot of the profession and doesn’t include information about the number of Asian Australians there are studying law at university (nor for that matter does it include in-house lawyer numbers).

Having said all that, in my opinion the infographic on page 4 of the Report tells a more compelling story than any 1,000 page report into diversity could.

Asking the question:

Is there a “bamboo ceiling”

the infographic details that:

While Asian Australians make up 9.6% of Australia’s population, Asian Australians account for a mere 3.1% of law firm partners (incredibly these numbers are actually worse for barristers and the judiciary). If that were not bad enough, 50 (yes, 50) “medium” (10-40 partners) and “large” (>40 partners) law firms in Australia have no (as in zero or “0”) Asian Australians in their partnership.

To be clear, this isn’t limited to female Asian Australian partners, but Asian Australians period.

While, by its own admission, limited by the nature of the subject matter – and there being relatively basic public material available -, thus great care needing to be taken in interpreting the data, I’m left asking: “how can this be?”.

And it is worth restating:

out of 97 ‘National’ and ‘International’ law firms in Australia, with collectively 4,100 partners, a mere 125 are identified as being Asian Australians.

In an era where almost every medium to large law firm in Australia is on record as [strategically] actively seeking work from the Asia Pacific Region, the findings in this Report are nothing short of bewildering and staggering.

However, as disappointing as the findings are, publication of the Report is nevertheless important if, as is hoped, it forms the start of “a constructive dialogue for the legal profession in Australia.” A dialogue that is clearly well overdue.

My only hope is that any future report extend the survey findings to include a breakdown of male and female Asian Australian law firm partners. Because, if anecdotal evidence from my own life is anything to go by, female Asian Australian law firm partners are a very rare breed indeed.

*Disclosure: As the proud husband of an Asian Australian lawyer and the father of an Asian Australian daughter, I have more than a vested interest in the subject matter of this post.

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