According to the survey by the Women Lawyer’s Association of NSW (“WLA”) just 61 per cent of students (male and female) studying a law degree intend to practise as a lawyer after they graduate. The Career Intentions survey which was launched on 30 July 2015 indicated that of 1,403 participants, 28% were not sure whether they wanted to practise as a lawyer and 11% did not intend to practise as a lawyer.
The Honourable Acting Justice Jane Mathews AO was the main speaker at the launch and highlighted significant correlations between gender and career intentions. Of the 61% who intended to practise as a lawyer her honour indicated, “more females intended to work as government lawyers or in community-based legal centres; whereas most males intended to work as solicitors, barrister, or in-house/corporate lawyers.” Justice Mathews stressed that this was because females were more interested in practising in an area that “offered a good work/life balance, and because they had a personal interest in social justice and advocacy” whereas males “were more concerned with the financial rewards that were offered”.
Justice Mathews believes this is a significant indicator as to why more women aren’t pursuing a career at the bar as women constitute only 21% of barristers and 10% of senior counsel. Her honour highlights the reasons for this are similar to that found in the survey, because the bar involves “too much stress and pressure … is too intimidating…is not family-friendly and…is too male-dominated”.
Overall Justice Mathews believed the survey revealed “a surprising lack of understanding on the part of many students as to the realities of professional life” and whilst praising the efforts of the WLA, her honour stressed the need for greater intervention by law schools to provide students with “meaningful information about professional life and with mentoring opportunities”.