Despite more women lawyer, men are more likely to occupy partner positions at law firms across New Zealand, a survey reveals.

According to ALPMA-McLeod Duminy's latest industry survey, the legal industry has made little progress on addressing gender pay disparity at partner-level and in the boardroom.

"For some reason women are not being considered the best person for the job," Kirsty Spears, legal recruitment consultant for law firm McLeod Duminy, said.

"There's a definite need for the balance to be struck, but it's not going to be an overnight fix."

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Spears said survey findings pose the question of what is being done by law firms to address gender imbalance within.

"There are considerably more women than men working in private practice - yet, women make up less than a fifth of equity partners and only 43 per cent of salaried partners," she said. "It seems that despite women making up 63 per cent of lawyers and solicitors, and 64 per cent of senior management, the top position of partner is still dominated by males."

The perception of a gender pay gap is reducing, findings reveal, with just one respondent cited to believe there was a disparity at his or her firm. However, 24 per cent of those surveyed believe there is pay disparity in the wider industry.

Spears said it was hard to identify exactly why this was the case, but said conscious and unconscious bias such as women taking time from work to have families, were often used as an excuse.

"There are lots and lots of reasons, none of which is a definitive reason" she said.

"These reasons could be a general gender bias; women who take time out to look after families [but] because law is a very linear career, that counts against you.

"I think a lot of the characteristics of successful lawyers tend to be seen as mainly male characteristics, and so perhaps women are not pushing through in the same way and are not recognised for their talents in the same way."

Findings reveal 62 per cent of New Zealand law firms expect pay rises this year and 57 per cent of firms expect to hire new staff to expand the business.

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Positive hiring intentions reflected mobility in the legal profession, she said.

ALPMA New Zealand president and general manager at Lowndes Jordan, Sheryll Carey, said New Zealand law firms expect pay rises to be above the rate of Consumer Price Index this year.

"For select staff, these increases will be supplemented by significant bonus payments, typically based on their individual financial performance - usually based on fees they generate for the firm," Carey said.

Fifteen per cent of respondent firms are planning a limited or total wage freeze.

The survey found bonus payments were part of the compensation mix for 84 per cent of New Zealand law firms, up 8 per cent from last year. While 84 per cent of law firms offer bonuses, only 2 per cent offer it to all staff.

"Few firms reward team efforts with bonus payments, and this represents a significant opportunity for firms to seeking to create cultures that support high performance teams and cross-business collaboration," she said.

Most bonuses are only offered to lawyers and executive staff, findings reveal.