It was always coming – the day when women outnumbered men in the New Zealand legal profession.
And now it has arrived, with the NZ Law Society announcing that of the 13,103 lawyers practising, 6553 are women.
Women admitted to the bar have exceeded men since the early 1990s, but the gap has now closed.
“I’ve been waiting with bated breath for a couple of years. I’m thrilled that we’re here”, says Law Society President Kathryn Beck in a Law Society release.
“This reinforces just how important it is that we address the issue of equity and retention and promotion of women in the profession,” Ms Beck says.
“I don’t think the lack of the 50/50 parity was holding things back, but we all knew that we needed to be doing better than we were. Milestones like this serve to remind us and refresh our commitment to change – I really feel like we are gaining some momentum; we need to make sure we keep it going.”
Having a profession with women in the majority is timely as the New Zealand Law Society will soon introduce the Gender Equality Charter to the profession.
“The Charter is about all of the legal profession making a voluntary commitment to meeting a series of equality objectives to ensure that women lawyers, whether full time or part time, are given the same opportunities as men to reach senior levels in the legal profession,” says Ms Beck.
“We can and we will do better.”
Women lawyer numbers are increasing generally in comparable jurisdictions.
In the UK, the percentage of trainees and associates who are women is creeping towards 60 per cent according to Chambers – that’s more or less the proportion of female LPC grads (and has been since the 90s).
In Australia, a study by the Law Council of Australia shows that while 63 percent of lawyers admitted to the profession in 2014 were women, only 10 percent occupied senior appointments — and that half of female lawyers who work part-time reported discrimination due to family responsibilities.
One of the key issues remaining for women in the law profession is achieving ‘parity’ or equality with men in partnership numbers, which is continuing to challenge many firms.