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Celebrating women in law

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 28

The latest statistics on Victorian practising certificates provide a snapshot of the legal profession and where women lawyers are working.

Women made up about 60 per cent of young lawyers in Victoria with under five years of legal practice but many left private practice as they became more experienced, Legal Services Commissioner Victoria Marles told a seminar for women.

“It is true we are not seeing women stay in private law firms ... so where are they going?,” Ms Marles said at the May “Celebrating women in law” event.

“An increasing number are going to inhouse roles. More female practitioners are practising in government, community legal centres and inhouse.”

The latest statistics on practising certificates, supplied to the LIJ by the Legal Services Board (LSB), reveal that the number of corporate lawyers overall in Victoria has jumped 56 per cent in the past five years – up from 1420 positions to 2217.

Women make up the majority of corporate lawyers (55 per cent), with their numbers rising 65 per cent over the past five years from 740 to 1219.

The statistics also show women outnumbered men as employee solicitors as of March this year, with 2933 women to 2276 men.

Victorian Women Lawyers convenor Christine Melis said that since the mid-1980s, more women than men had been graduating from law school and had been admitted to practice.

But she said men still greatly outnumbered women in senior positions, particularly in partnership numbers at law firms.

The latest statistic she had available was a November 2005 study of LIV practising certificate holders showing that 86 per cent of partners (excluding sole practitioners) were men.

“The argument that the so-called funnel effect will, by the effluxion of time, lead to more women in senior positions is not supported by these statistics,” she said.

“More needs to be done to increase women’s access to and participation in senior positions.”

The LSB statistics reveal that in March this year the number of women who held the position of principal or principal with trust had risen by 32 per cent since 2003 to 1518.

But this represented only 23 per cent of the total number of lawyers who were principals or principals with trust.

However, there might be a sign that the gap is slowly closing. In the 12 months to March this year, the number of women who held the position of principal or principal with trust in Victoria had risen by 161 (up 12 per cent) compared to male principal numbers rising by 54 (up 1 per cent).

Overall, the statistics reveal that women make up 40.2 per cent of the Victorian profession’s 14,232 lawyers – up from 35.2 per cent in 2003.

Of all the female lawyers practising in March this year, the majority (68 per cent) were aged in their 20s and 30s; while 73 per cent of all the male lawyers were spread evenly across their 30s, 40s and 50s.

Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) principal solicitor, organised crime, Vicky Prapas, who also addressed the women’s seminar on 9 May, said female law graduates had made up 73 per cent of applicants for the OPP’s legal traineeship program for 2009.

She said women made up 60 per cent of the solicitors at the OPP, and 26 per cent of the Crown prosecutors.

Ms Prapas advised the 70 women who attended the seminar to seek work/life balance and various mentors throughout their careers.

Another speaker, County Court Judge Felicity Hampel advised the seminar attendees to maintain relationships with friends and colleagues throughout their careers.

“It is so easy if you want to make a success of your career ... to say this must come first and to put work, clients and perhaps career and ambition ahead of our friends,” she said.

“But it is ultimately a less fulfilled life if you don’t have relationships that you have given priority to as well.”

Legal practitioner statistics

Number of practitioners who hold a current Victorian practising certificate by type,
age and gender as of March 2008

MALE PRACTITIONERS – age in years


20-30

31-40

41-50

51-60

61-70

>70

TOTAL

Corporate

126

451

250

138

29

4

998

Employee

840

741

279

213

161

42

2276

Principal

132

463

588

704

369

74

2330

Principal
(w. trust)

16

396

888

1073

442

44

2859

Volunteer

10

13

7

6

3

0

39

TOTAL

1124

2064

2012

2134

1004

164

8502

FEMALE PRACTITIONERS – age in years


20-30

31-40

41-50

51-60

61-70

>70

TOTAL

Corporate

215

628

285

84

7

0

1219

Employee

1372

1023

349

138

47

4

2933

Principal

117

299

266

162

43

9

896

Principal
(w. trust)

19

190

230

133

43

7

622

Volunteer

21

21

10

5

3

0

60

TOTAL

1744

2161

1140

522

143

20

5730

Source: Legal Services Board

Work wisdoms

Tips from women who are leaders in the legal field.

Legal Services Commissioner Victoria Marles:
“Remember you are not on your own” and “Keep calm and carry on”.

County Court Judge Felicity Hampel:
“Successful women in the law are successful women in their other lives as well” and “Seize the day, whatever it holds – if you don’t like what it holds, discard it and go for something else”.

Office of Public Prosecutions principal solicitor, organised crime, Vicky Prapas:
“Seek out mentors, work/life balance and people who can guide you” and “Throw yourself into what would otherwise petrify you”.

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