National survey finds that there are 66,211 practising solicitors in Australia

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The ‘2014 Law Society National Profile of Solicitors in Australia’ report was released this morning on the NSW Law Society website.

The first time this report has been updated since 2011, key findings include:

  • there are now 66,211 Practising Solicitors in Australia – a 12% increase since 2011.
  • of all practising solicitors in Australia:
    • 34,10 (51.5%) were male, and
    • 32,110 (48.5%) were female.

This represents a significant increase in the proportion of female solicitors since 2011  – when the percentage number ratios were 54.6% male to 43.4% female.

  • while the mean age of Australian solicitors has remained roughly the same at 41.9 years – compared to 42.0 years in 2011, interestingly the largest proportional growth age bracket is occurring in the over 65 years age group (with a 38% increase in this group since 2011).
  • as at October 2014, the majority of practising solicitors in Australia were private practitioners  – 70.2%; with the percentage numbers in other major sectors of the profession in Australia remaining fairly static since 2011 – 15.8% were corporate solicitors and 9.6% worked in the government sector.

Most interestingly, while overall the Australian legal market remains represented by small practices – 2,155 firms (17.3% of the total) had 2 to 4 partner and 514 firms (4.1% of the total) had 5 to 10 partners:

  • there are now 77 law firms across Australia where the number of partners exceed 40 – representing a 300% increase from 2011, and
  • there are now 74 law firms across Australia where the number of partners range from 21 to 39 – representing a 111% increase from 2011.

In addition to potentially showing significant consolidation in the Australian legal market over the past three years (the overall percentage representative number of sole practitioners is actually down roughly 3% in 2014 from 2011), these numbers would appear to indicate that the slow death of large law firms, and the professional more generally, is being greatly over exaggerated in the Australian legal press.

Indeed, one could argue that now more than ever the market in Australia is highly competitive and that it is becoming increasingly important that you and your firm be able to communicate what differentiates you from the crowd.

If you haven’t already, I’d like to recommend that you take a look at the report – it contains some very interesting statistics; including, for the first time, statistics on the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

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.

Acritas’ Sharplegal Survey: Vive La Différence – or you’ll lose work!

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The days of the male dominated culture in law firms are numbered if said firms want to have any chance of continuing to win work from the growing number, as well as importance, of female in-house general counsel according to the latest research undertaken by Acritas’ Sharplegal (an annual global legal market survey of over 2,000 general counsel) revealing how differently male and female buyers approach the purchase of legal services.

Bottom-line take out from the covering article – on the Acritas website – announcing the survey result that should get every male law firm partner and their business development team’s thinking caps on is this:

Firms that are able to demonstrate in-depth knowledge of their female client’s business and her needs also stand to gain higher levels of favorability from her – an all-important step on the path to winning work.

This statement is also directly reflective of Lucy Siebert’s (international counsel at Australia’s Telstra) comments at the recent Legal Week Asia regional ‘Corporate Counsel Forum’, held at the end of November 2014, where she stated that:

We [Telstra] specifically look to see that they’re ensuring the best possible talent pool for us – not just white Anglo-Saxon males. We’ve got a very strong diversity policy and so we expect that to be something that is also important to our panel firms.

Crucially, law firms who are looking to win a greater share of work from female in-house counsel should note:

When asked what drove the likelihood to recommend a firm, a much higher proportion of women than men spoke about responsiveness as a deciding factor.

And specifically that:

Not only was it the quality of communication that mattered to female in-house counsel, but also the speed and level of interaction they experienced.

Interestingly, the survey also reports that:

43% of women working in senior in house legal roles said they used LinkedIn on a daily or weekly basis, compared with just a third of men. Furthermore, only a quarter of women said they never used the social network, compared to two fifths of men, suggesting that new business approaches to women may be better made online than ‘on the golf course’.

A final ‘thought for the day’ is the following by Lisa Hart Shepherd, CEO of Acritas [commenting on the survey findings]:

“A change in thinking and culture is needed if men want to impress an increasingly influential group of female in-house counsel who value business understanding and efficient communication over reputation, personal relationships and trust when choosing their preferred legal partner.”