Damning report reveals lawyer dissatisfaction

by Samantha Woodhill01 Jul 2016

A report on the experiences of young New Zealand lawyers by law graduate Josh Pemberton has been released, reveals harrowing results.

The report, First Steps: The experiences and retention of New Zealand’s Junior Lawyers, found that almost two-thirds of junior female lawyers think that their gender will restrict their ability to progress in the legal industry.  Lawyers in top tier graduate positions reported they were least likely to stay in the law long term.

While 92.7% of respondents agreed that law school had given them a good grounding in legal theory and analytical skills, only around 49.1% agreed that law school had prepared them for practise.

Just 37.4% of the respondents from top tier firms said they were likely to still be in the profession in 10 years.

New Zealand Law Society president Kathryn Beck said the profession needs to seriously consider the work-life balance of junior lawyers and the perception of women that gender could have a negative impact on their career.

"Positively, the majority of junior lawyers who participated were satisfied with their work,” she said.

“What the report says, however, is that there are several areas where employers and the whole profession can and must change if they want to ensure that new lawyers are better encouraged, mentored and supported.”

Work satisfaction, work-life balance, remuneration, retention, the effectiveness of legal education and the experience of junior women lawyers were key areas covered in the research.  It included 40 hour-long interviews and a survey of over 800 junior lawyers in the first five years of practise, funded by the Law Foundation and supported by the New Zealand Law Society and Otago University Law Faculty.

Pemberton told NZ Lawyer that the survey found that the likelihood of lawyer reporting they would stay in the law varied significantly depending on employer type.  Lawyers in what were perceived the best jobs during law school were least satisfied.

“It is the junior lawyers in these jobs who report the lowest likelihood of remaining in the profession longer term,” he said.

“Young lawyers frequently reported finding it very difficult to draw a line between their work life and personal life.”

Pemberton decided to delve into the reasons why the practise of law was so different to what was anticipated by law students after he witnessed his peers transition from university to practise with varying levels of success.

“I was curious about questions such as what made the early years in law “good” or “bad”, how informed juniors had been about the law and different careers while they were at law school, and so on,” he told NZ Lawyer.

“It seemed as if almost every junior lawyer I knew had an opinion on these sorts of issues. But until now, such views remained just that: a collection of diverse individual opinions.”