Over recent years, there has been popular concern about an apparent decrease in lawyers working in regional, rural and remote (RRR) areas throughout Australia. Attention has centred on perceived problems in the recruitment and retention of lawyers.
This research is the second of two studies undertaken by the Law and Justice Foundation into the availability of solicitors in RRR New South Wales (NSW). Both studies have included assessments of problems relating to the recruitment and retention of solicitors in different parts of NSW. The aim of both studies was to understand the nature of the problem to better inform strategies to improve access to lawyers for disadvantaged people in RRR areas.
The Foundation’s earlier study, Recruitment and retention of lawyers in regional, rural and remote New South Wales (Forell, Cain & Gray 2010) produced findings, not all of which were consistent with the widely held perceptions. Key findings of that research included:
Contrary to expectations, only a low seven per cent of public legal assistance solicitor positions in NSW were vacant on the census date. However, in some remote areas:
vacancy rates were higher
there were substantial levels of public legal service positions occupied by ‘non-incumbent’ solicitors, which suggested difficulties in filling positions substantively
the time that public legal solicitors served in remote positions was low, and suggested more frequent staff turnover.
The more remote the region, the greater the ratio of residents to solicitors (i.e. fewer solicitors per thousand residents).
Remote areas were more likely to have few, if any, solicitors. In addition, remote areas were more likely to have the youngest and least experienced solicitors (outside of Sydney).
Some areas, for example the Far West, had particular challenges in recruiting and retaining solicitors, while other regions did not experience such difficulties.
Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales 2014