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The LawFuel NZ Law Firm Gender Parity Survey 2022


The LawFuel gender survey of New Zealand’s largest law firms shows a welcome and continued improvement in gender parity among the larger practices, although the gender imbalance in the profession remains a persistent issue.

There are more women in law than ever with almost 54 per cent of the more than 15,500 New Zealand lawyers being women, a figure that has increased by 10 per cent in the past 10 years.. But there has long been the issue of the relative lack women reaching partnership and law firm gender parity has been a festering issue for many years.

In our last survey, in 2020 we saw an increase in the percentage of women partners in law firms, although the New Zealand law profession has previously had the widest gender pay gap of any other in the country.

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In 2018 the NZME’s YUDU survey revealed some reasonably depressing statistics about the gender gap in the law profession. The gap continues, although increasing promotion levels of women have slowly redressed it.

The number of large firm leaders who are female remains low (as below), remaining at less that one third of the largest firms, which it was four years ago when the Law Society reported the figures.

The 2018 number of women who are partners in the 20 largest firms was just over 28 per cent of total partners and that figure is not significantly bigger today, while several of the large firms are not disclosing the number of women partners who are also equity-sharing, a sure sign of gender parity.

The situation regarding women in law in other countries has been bleak. In 2018 women comprised fewer than 20 per cent of equity partners in the top US law firms. And women earned less as well, taking home 85 cents to the ‘man’s’ dollar.

There is no questions that gender parity is a key factor in both recruitment and rertention of staff, quite apart from the obvious equity considerations.

A recent Australian report from online recruiter SEEK  showed that 73 per cent of Gen Z women said diversity in the workplace was a “must” when deciding on a new job. Nearly 40 per cent of Gen Z women said they would favour an employer that had women in leadership roles.

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A recent US commentary from partner Ann Olivarius (right) had a number of suggestions for what law firms need to do to promote the interests of women and recognize their talents.

No More Hiding – Firms should commit to renouncing the use of non-disclosure agreements and private arbitration for in-house sexual discrimination and harassment complaints—unless specifically requested by the complainant.

She noted that women who experience discrimination should file a formal grievance and, if necessary, a lawsuit. “Both are awful experiences, as I know from my own caseload of brave women and my own early workplace experiences. But we need to help each other, and airing the sexist dirty laundry is a painful, but necessary, step.”

Equal Pay Announcements – MinterEllisonRuddWatts recently announced their pay gap reporting scale, the first New Zealand law firm to do so.  Law firms should follow release annual gender audits of salaries, positions, opportunities offered, and plans for redressing gaps. 

Include Women in Management – Several major law firms are including women leaders in their top lineup and in New Zealand most of the major law firms have made that move, which we trust is more than a virtue-signaling attempt to redress prior lapses.

Among the ‘lady leaders’ are Sarah Sinclair (Minters), Jennifer Cauldwell (Buddle Findlay), Anne Callinan (Simpson Grierson) and Bell Gully had Anna Buchly for two years as managing partner, Emma Sutcliffe, Chair of the Wellington board.

Male styles of management remain the standard in most firms globally and management should be more inclusive, which also leads to a more inclusive and profitable firm.

Long before Covid-19, female lawyers struggled to balance work and family—their male colleagues relied on their wives—and so asked for reduced hours and flexible working arrangements. But women need something else: fairness at home with the kids, cooking, and cleaning. Tell the guys in your firm to man up by acting more like a mother. Make flexible work work for them, too.

The New Zealand Gender Survey Rankings

As with previous rankings in the surveys we have ranked according to equity rankings to reflect an accurate picture of what the true partnership situation is with the largest firms.

Some have note provided that information, but the times are certainly changing in favour of an equity-only partnership structure, compared to some years ago when a significant number of the larger firms carried salaried, non-equity partners.

The rankings show Anderson Lloyd in the lead again. All firm figures are rounded to the nearest percentage and are taken as at 30 June 2022.

Apart from leading the rankings in gender equality Anderson Lloyd also has a very high female ratio overall of 80 per cent.

Dentons Kensington Swan sit a percentage point behind and have consistently demonstrated strong moves towards achieving gender diversity with 60 per cent of the Board being female.

Buddle Findlay have lifted their Board-level female ratio to 50 per cent, lead by National Chair Jennifer Cauldwell.

Interestingly, the three largest firms in New Zealand’s Golden Triangle of top firms, Chapman Tripp, Russell McVeagh and Bell Gully, all sit within one percentage point of one another and all have full equity participation among partners.

We have provided a comparison from the 2019 rankings for equity partnership by way of comparison to the current figures.

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The 2022 LawFuel NZ Law Firm Gender Survey

Firm Total Partners Female Partners (equity sharing) 2019 % Ranking
1 Anderson Lloyd – 41 per cent 27 11 32
2 Dentons Kensington Swan – 40 per cent 35 14 33
3 Simpson Grierson – 35 per cent 43 15 26
4= Russell McVeagh – 33 per cent 43 14 31
4= Chapman Tripp – 33 per cent 54 18 22
5 Bell Gully – 32 per cent 44 14 22
6 Meredith Connell* – 31 per cent 34 13 28
7 Buddle Findlay – 30 per cent 47 14 26
8 Lane Neave** – 20 per cent 25 5 n/a
9 AWSLegal*** – 19 per cent 16 3 n/a

*Meredith Connell have 38 per cent female partners, (13 women) but the equity partners account for 31 per cent.

**Lane Neave’s 25 partners include 12 equity partners, of whom five are female (41per cent).

***AWSLegal have 16 partners of whom 7 are female and 3 of whom are equity-sharing.

Cavell Leitch is not on the list as an incorporated law firm with 15 principals of whom eight are female (53 per cent), but with four equity-sharing principals one is female (25 per cent).

The Major Law Firms That Hold Back Equity Sharing Details

Among the major firms that do not disclose their equity partner information are Duncan Cotterill who have 15 female partners out of the complement of 48, (31 per cent) but did not disclose how many are equity-sharing.

DLAPiper has seven female partners out of 19 (37 per cent), but told us they do not publicly state the equity status of partners. In 2019, however, the percentage of female equity-sharing partners was 38 per cent which, if it was the same this year, would place DLA Piper in third spot on the rankings.

Tompkins Wake was unable to provide information for the survey, although the 2020 figures for the firm had equity-sharing female partners at 12 per cent (3 partners). The firm today has 27 partners of whom 11 are women (41 per cent).

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MinterEllisonRuddWatts has 34 per cent female partners (16/47) but told us they do not share the equity status of women partners as “partnership remuneration information”, indicating not all women partners at the firm are equity-sharing.

Failing to share equity participartion by the firm is a disappointment given that MinterEllisonRuddWatts took the step recently of being the first to provide its pay gap reporting. It also has a woman Chair, Sarah Sinclair.

Anthony Harper failed to respond to the survey this year as it did when we last surveyed this issue. The firm has 33 partners, of whom eight are female (24 per cent).

A Century To Catch Up . .

Gender parity generally will take 132 years to progress across work, health and politics globally according to this year’s World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. 

Research from 146 countries found that in 2022 the gap has been closed by 68 per cent, but the pandemic hindered greater improvement. 

Iceland kept its crown for the 12th year in a row as the ‘most gender equal country’, closing 90.8% of its parity gap, followed by Finland (86%), Norway (84.5%) and New Zealand (84.1%). Australia ranked 43rd (73.8%). 

The report highlighted women’s participation in the labour market had been hit by the pandemic, with gender parity globally at its lowest level since 2006.

For law firms an Australian report shows that nearly 60 per cent of Millennial women said gender diversity was a “must have” when choosing an employer.

Recruiting and retaining lawyers is one of the key issues facing law firms and there is no doubt that diversity and gender parity are a key determinant for lawyers seeking to work for a particular law firm.

Who Should Be On The Power Law List 2022? – Give us your feedback

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LawFuel is preparing for publication our annual Power List of New Zealand’s most powerful lawyers in 2022.

We welcome feedback from readers as to the power players in New Zealand law. The 2021 Power List can be seen at this link.

Who should be on the list? Email us at [email protected] suggestions as to those who should be added, deleted or moved up or down.

Or you can forward your suggestions through this link.

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