NSW Legal profession’s gender equity, regional retention issues in the spotlight


The Law Society of NSW is promoting regional, rural and remote legal career opportunities, as well as responding to recent data revealing persistent gender pay and career gaps.

President of the Law Society of NSW Joanne van der Plaat said the 2021 Annual Profile of Solicitors in NSW published this month provides an invaluable opportunity for NSW law firms to share ‘best practice’ on remuneration and retention of legal talent.

“Over the coming months, the Law Society will engage with signatories of our Charter for the Advancement of Women and other leading law firms, to gather information about how they are currently addressing equal pay and flexibility in the workplace,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“The Profile shows pay gaps emerge with early career lawyers with the disparity increasing in line with seniority. The Law Society intends to examine this trend in detail and consider how best to address gender equality in senior roles.”

For the fifth consecutive year, female solicitors outnumber males, but fewer females occupy senior roles. For example, the number of male law firm equity partners outnumber their female counterparts by almost three to one.

“Remuneration and career opportunities are vital to retaining high performing staff, which can improve productivity, performance, competitiveness and growth,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“The Law Society can play an important role in sharing approaches across the profession, providing firms with practical guidance as we’ve done already with our publications on Cultural Diversity guidance, Creating a Disability Inclusive Workplace and our Workplace Guide and Model Discrimination and Harassment Policies.

“We look forward to working with the profession and providing the best support we can to assist law firms to develop ways of nurturing all their talent, both in metropolitan and regional areas.”

Ms van der Plaat expressed concern at data in the profile which showed only 12 percent of NSW solicitors practice in regional areas and encouraged more regional firms to sign up to the Charter.

“As a regional practitioner myself, I’m keenly aware of the potentially devastating consequences of people in these areas not being able to access justice. The most recent Australian Census revealed more than a third of the NSW population lives outside greater Sydney. The 2021 Profile data shows barely more than one in ten solicitors in the state practice in areas outside the Sydney CBD and Suburbs,” Ms van der Plaat said.

“As Co-Chair of the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) Rural, Regional and Remote (RRR) Lawyers Committee , I last year launched the RRR Lawyers and Communities National Strategic Plan. The Law Society has been working with the Law Council throughout 2022 to develop tools which seek to address recruitment barriers and administrative hurdles for smaller RRR legal workplaces on hiring and onboarding new employees.”