In 2018, NSW celebrated 100 years of women in the law. Women now make up 60 percent of law school graduates, and, according to a recent survey undertaken by Pitcher Partners, comprise approximately two-thirds of employed graduate solicitors.
However, on average, female law graduates earn less than men at entry level, and a gender pay gap continues to exist at all levels of the profession. The gender pay gap currently sits at about 35.6 percent.
Despite women having made up a substantial portion of law graduates for a number of years, and where 51 percent of practicing solicitors in NSW are women, women continue to be under-represented at senior levels of the profession, making up approximately 16 percent of equity partners in law firms, and 25.8 percent of partners in law firms generally. A tiny 3.4 percent of managing partners of law firms are women. At the bar, only 23 percent of practicing barristers in NSW are women, and only 11 percent of senior counsel are female.
Whilst flexible working arrangements are increasingly available for women lawyers seeking to balance caring responsibilities with careers, there are ongoing concerns about the impact this has on the career trajectories of the women who work part time, or in other flexible arrangements. Many women report being put on the "mummy track", with reduced access to complex, quality work, impacting on their abilities to be further promoted.
Clearly, our profession still has some way to go to reach equality for women.
But it's not all bad news.
The High Court of Australia has a female head in Chief Justice Susan Kiefel. Justices Virginia Bell and Michelle Gordon also sit on the bench of our highest Court. Margaret Beazley AO, QC, the first female president of the NSW Court of Appeal, will take up her appointment as the Governor of New South Wales in May 2019. There are (slowly) increasing numbers of senior female lawyers and jurists in highly visible positions. Progress is slow, but it is progress. We have to hope that with the substantial numbers of younger women entering the profession, change will move at a more rapid rate to enable all female lawyers to have the successful, rewarding careers in the law which they deserve.
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