New figures show women lawyers now outnumber their male colleagues in Australia for the first time.
Leading Coastal lawyer Leanne Topfer said the huge shift in the gender imbalance in the legal profession was inevitable.
“It was always a matter of time because so many young women are coming through,” the Burnie-based former Tasmanian Law Society president and director of the Law Council of Australia said.
More than half (50.1 per cent) of Australia’s 71,500 practising solicitors were women, according to the 2016 National Profile of the Profession report.
Law also grew in popularity as a career in Australia, with the number of legal eagles up by 24 per cent in five years, and the number of women lawyers had doubled in the past two years.
“It’s quite extraordinary, it’s such a fundamental shift in one generation,” Ms Topfer said.
She graduated from law school in 1981.
“When I started law school there were so few women.”
She was one of just six women in a class of 40 law students.
However, today at least half the state’s law students were women.
Last year when the High Court swore in its first female Chief Justice, Susan Kiefel, Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said the appointment was a game-changer for young women in law who could aspire to do the same.
However, one recent survey showed just under 35 per cent of all new partners were female among the surveyed firms.
While a lot of employers had policies for flexible work places it did not always reflect the reality. Inflexible work situations were seen as a barrier to the advancement of women.
Ms Topfer said the pay gap in law was not just a gender issue and perhaps it was about how women and a new generation of male lawyers want to practice law.
“Women lawyers perhaps are more interested in having a balance in their life and do not earn the same incomes traditionally as men have done by working 60 hours a week when it makes them sick.”
She said it would be interesting to see what it meant in another 10 years and whether it altered the way law was practiced.
“As older men leave and women and younger men looking for more life balance arrive, it’s a generational shift not just a gender shift,” Ms Topfer said.
She said with more women lawyers more would be appointed to senior roles. Ms Topfer is among a number of female high-achievers in the NW such as magistrate Tamara Jago and former magistrate Melanie Bartlett who is back practicing. Ms Topfer said quite a few younger women were doing family law and commercial law.
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