8667.0 - Legal Services Industry, Australia, 1998-99  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 18/08/2000   
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August 18, 2000
Embargoed 11:30am (AEST)

Legal industry profits up

Organisations in the Australian legal services industry generated $7,730 million in income during 1998/99, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) today.

The large majority (91 per cent) of this income was generated by solicitor practices ($6,192 million) and barrister practices ($843 million). In total, solicitor and barrister practices returned a profit of $2,483 million in 1998/99, with solicitor and barrister practices recording an operating profit margin of 31.4 per cent and 64.7 per cent respectively.

The legal services industry at the end of June 1999, comprised 7,115 private solicitor practices, 3,704 barrister practices, 39 patent attorney businesses, 9 government solicitor organisations, 8 legal aid authorities and 152 community legal centres. Total employment in these organisations at 30 June 1999 was 79,763 people including 30,923 qualified solicitors and barristers.

The 7,115 solicitor practices operating at 30 June 1999 represented a 11 per cent increase since June 1996, while the total income of $6,192 million represented a 28 per cent increase since 1995-96. The main sources of income were commercial ($1,821 million), property ($1,152 million) and personal injury ($966 million) work. The income from commercial work has increased by 30 per cent since 1995-96. In addition, qualified solicitors and barristers working for solicitor practices carried out 1,782,000 hours of pro bono work, representing 71 hours per solicitor/barrister during 1998-99.

Most (92 per cent) solicitor practices had employment of less than 20 people. These small practices accounted for 44 per cent of practice employment and 33 per cent of practice income. In comparison there were 76 practices (1 per cent of all practices) who employed 100 people or more, accounting for 30 per cent of practice employment, 42 per cent of practice income and 45 per cent of the operating profits of solicitor practices.

Over the three year period from June 1996 to June 1999 there was a 11 per cent increase in the number of barrister practices. The 3,704 barrister practices generated $843 million in income during 1998-99, an increase of 23 per cent since 1995-96. The main sources of income during 1998/99 were in the fields of commercial ($228 million), personal injury ($235 million) and criminal law ($89 million). The average return (either in the form of profits or salaries) per barrister was $146,800, although barristers with 20 or more years experience at the bar recorded a return of $227,600.

Barrister practices undertook 489,000 hours of pro bono work during 1998-99 which represented 132 hours per barrister for the year.

Further details can be found in Legal Services, Australia, 1998-99 (cat. no. 8667.0) available from ABS bookshops. If you wish to purchase a copy of this publication, contact the ABS bookshop in your capital city.