30 November 2023
The number of women practising law in Victoria has topped 54 per cent of all registered lawyers, according to new data published in the latest annual report from the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner (VLSB+C). The report, tabled in Parliament today, shares a range of demographic information to build a picture of the Victorian legal profession in 2022-23.
Our data tells an evolving story
A comparison between lawyers’ gender and years of experience revealed that while those who have been in the profession the longest (25 years or more) are still predominately men (71 per cent), women make up a majority of lawyers who have been practising for 25 years or less (60 per cent). Though small, a growing cohort of lawyers also identify as non-binary.
Newly admitted lawyers are helping to diversify the profession. For example, India is one of the top five countries of birth among first-year lawyers, compared with the whole profession (Australia, UK, China, New Zealand and Malaysia). Collectively, Victorian lawyers come from 175 different cultural backgrounds and speak 171 languages. However, despite 77 per cent of the state’s lawyers being born in Australia, First Nations lawyers make up less than one per cent of the total.
More lawyers are taking on government and corporate roles, with both types of practice recording significant growth in the past year (6.8 and 6.6 per cent respectively). The profession overall is mostly concentrated in Melbourne and its suburbs, with just over 11 per cent of lawyers working in other parts of Victoria.
Protecting and empowering consumers
Few of the more than 27,600 lawyers registered in Victoria in 2022-23 received a complaint against them, reflecting the high standards of the profession generally. Those who did come to our attention represented just 3.6 per cent of solicitors and 2.6 per cent of barristers. They tended to work in the areas of family, probate, commercial, conveyancing and criminal law.
Of the 969 complaint files we opened, the majority were consumer matters involving disputes over costs or service quality – an increasing portion of which we resolve through alternative methods such as mediation. Other complaints related to lawyers’ professional conduct, though not all of them warranted an investigation.
In several cases, we used our powers to take disciplinary action against a lawyer. This included deciding to prosecute 16 matters at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). We also wrapped up two investigations into fraud and theft offences within law practices that led to police prosecutions, with both offenders pleading guilty. Other focuses included stopping unqualified legal practice and intervening early at signs of poor lawyer practice.
Our first major public education campaign, Your Right to Ask, performed strongly across all media. Developed in response to recommendation 76 of the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants, the campaign helped consumers of legal services understand their lawyers’ ethical obligations.
As part of our commitment to putting our customers first, we established a dedicated Customer Experience team and a Quality Assurance and Review function. We also continued to invest in our technology and our people to ensure we can provide the best customer service possible. This included delivering the first phase of our digital transformation to boost collaboration and productivity.
Improving legal practice and ethics
During 2022-23, we stepped up our efforts to tackle poor wellbeing in the legal profession, establishing a community of practice with organisational psychologists who work across the profession. Our new wellbeing resources were popular with lawyers, who accessed them online 2,700 times. We also continued to work with the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) and the Victorian Bar to fund initiatives supporting lawyer wellbeing.
We kicked off the legal year by publishing our inaugural Risk Outlook to improve how we communicate with lawyers about the regulatory issues impacting them. Additionally, we surveyed early-career lawyers about their experiences of supervised legal practice.
Improving access to justice
In the reporting year, we released a policy statement that clearly defines how we support improving access to justice for Victorians through our roles as a regulator, a funder and an investor. We also started work on our first Reconciliation Action Plan in collaboration with a First Nations consultancy.
Our grants program continued to go from strength to strength, awarding $5 million in funding to support 17 projects being delivered by legal and community organisations in Victoria. We undertook a review of the program in 2022, resulting in a new grants strategy and the adoption of a new funding model to further enhance its impact.
Quotes attributable to Fiona McLeay, Board CEO and Commissioner
“This year, we have embraced a continuous improvement approach to the way we conduct our activities and are progressing a body of work to improve how we deliver our customer services.”
“There have been several firsts for us. We launched a major public education campaign to help consumers understand their rights and how they can work with their lawyers, a Risk Outlook for the legal profession and our policy statement to support access to justice for Victorians.”
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