Women in Law – Asia Pacific

In Asia Pacific, women have made significant progress in the legal sector in recent years. Currently, women lead the Asian operations of at least six global firms. They include Ashurst’s Head of Asia Jini Lee; Clifford Chance’s Asia Pacific regional Managing Partner Connie Heng;  Herbert Smith Freehill’s Asia Managing Partner May Tai; Linklaters’ Asia Managing Partner Nathalie Hobbs; Sidley Austin’s Asia Pacific Managing Partner Constance Choy; and Shearman & Sterling’s Asia Regional Managing Partner Lorna Chen. [1] In addition, Nguyen Thi Lang was appointed the first female chair of an international law firm in Vietnam in 2021. But the status of women in law varies from country to country.

In Australia, since 2019 the legal sector was promoting the 40-40-20 model, with 40% of any new admissions and/or promotions in any year being male, 40% female, and the remaining 20% varying depending on the candidate pool. By December 2022, five of “Big Six Firms”[2] had failed to achieve the target of women leadership in law firms, Allens followed with 36.4%, Clayton Utz 30.1%, HSF 34.5%, KWM 33.9%, and MinterEllison 32.7%.[3]

In Singapore, of all practicing lawyers in 2020 43% are women and only 14% are in the senior category (15+ PQE). [4] The Law Society states that women represented 65% of legal trainees in Hong Kong yet only 30% of partners. In India the average percentage of women at the partnership at 30 top Indian law firms stands at 30%. At top-tier Indian law firms Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas and AZB & Partners in 2019, respectively 42% and 40% of new partners were women.[5]

On the other hand, in countries such as Japan and Korea, women face challenges even getting into the industry. For example in Japan, women make up only about 18.8% of lawyers[6]. Similarly, according to Ministry of Justice gender index statistics, women lawyers accounted for 27.8% of the headcount in all legal professions.[7]

Overall, numbers of women in the legal profession in many Asia countries continue to grow, and the status of women in law in some countries is better than their peers in the US, UK, or Europe. Efforts are also underway to increase gender diversity in the legal profession. 

#EmbraceEquity #IWD2023 #InternationalWomenDay #WomenInLaw

[1] Anna Zhang “Women Hold Up Half the Sky: Why So Many Women Run the World’s Largest Law Firms in Asia.” law.com, 12 April 2021, https://www.law.com/international-edition/2021/04/12/women-hold-up-half-the-sky-why-so-many-women-run-the-worlds-largest-law-firms-in-asia/ (accessed 7 Mar 2023)

[2] The following firms were generally regarded as the Big Six firms in Australia: Allens, Ashurst, Clayton Utz, Herbert Smith Freehills, King & Wood Mallesons, and MinterEllison.

[3] Hannah Wootton and Michael Pelly, “Law firms go backwards on female partners”, Financial Review, Dec 8 2022, https://www.afr.com/companies/professional-services/law-firms-go-backwards-on-female-partners-20221130-p5c2f3 (Accessed 7 Mar 2023)

[4] The Law Society of Singapore, “Leveling the Playing Field,” August 2020, https://law-society-singapore-prod.s3.ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/2020/08/WIP-Report-Levelling-the-Playing-Field.pdf (Accessed 7 Mar 2023)

[5] “Women in Indian law firms: In a growing minority,” legallyindia.com, 1 June 2019, https://www.legallyindia.com/india-unleashed-editorial/women-in-indian-law-firms-in-a-growing-minority-20190601-11000 (accessed 7 Mar 2023)

[6] Jesscia Seah, “Even in Japan, Law Firms Boost Diversity Initiatives to Attract Women Lawyers”, law.com, 12 November 2020, https://www.law.com/international-edition/2020/11/12/even-in-japan-law-firms-boost-diversity-initiatives-to-attract-women-lawyers/ (Accessed 7 Mar 2023)

[7] Lim Mi Ran and Nguyen Yen, “Korea’s top 100 lawyers 2022,” Asia Business Law Journal, 17 November 2022, https://law.asia/top-lawyers-korea/ (accessed 7 Mar 2023)

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