Women lawyers set to outnumber men in NZ

by Sol Dolor05 Apr 2017
Women are set to outnumber men in New Zealand’s legal profession in the coming months, but the New Zealand Law Society says there’s more to be done, particularly when it comes to gender equity at the leadership level.

“Sometime in a few months, New Zealand’s legal profession will have more women than men. In mid-March, there were just 205 more men in our 12,800-member profession,” said Kathryn Beck, Law Society president. “The real milestone for celebration will be when there is equality in leadership of the profession. This is still some distance away. It will come when men and women are equally represented in the partnerships, the directorships, among the Queen’s Counsel, and in in-house leadership.”

Beck noted that the milestone has been coming since 1993, when more women than men started to be admitted to the profession. However, there is still a discrepancy when it comes to lawyers making partner in the country’s largest law firms.

Data from Lady Deborah Chambers QC reveal that while women will soon outnumber men in the profession, they make up just 28% of partners and directors and just 18% of Queen’s Counsel.

“We are part of a great profession. It is a profession whose leaders should attain their position through ability and aptitude for the role, not because they are male or female,” Beck said.

Beck said, however, that change is coming, evidenced by a 31% increase in women partners or directors in the last four years, compared to just 2% for men.

“Things are improving, but they are not improving quickly enough. The New Zealand Law Society has embarked on a plan for moving faster towards equality,” she said.

The Law Society will soon roll out an “unconscious bias in the workplace” training program, she said. The organisation saw more than 1,000 participants when it rolled out a free 90-minute training session for lawyers on the topic last month.

“We have decided to require all lawyers who want to be able to qualify to practise on their own to complete the training – and this is needed to become law firm partners or directors. We are also investigating how it can be embedded in law degrees,” Beck said.

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