This year marks a century since a law was passed that legally allowed women to practise in the New South Wales legal profession.
The state of Victoria had moved to allow Flos Greig to enter the profession 13 years earlier in August 1905. She was described by Chief Justice Sir John Madden, who presided over her admission to the Victorian bar, as being at the vanguard of “the graceful incoming of a revolution”.
In a long-form piece dedicated to the early agitation for women’s participation in the profession, the March edition of the NSW Law Society Journal quoted Labor NSW Attorney-General Robert Hall, when he introduced the bill to parliament in 1918.
Six weeks before the end of World War I, Hall, who was also a barrister, said: “The work of women during this war shows that they are well able to do their part, and … we, who boast to be the most advanced state, are probably the least up-to-date state in Australia.
He went on to explain that the bill was one “to provide that women shall not, by reason of sex, be deemed to be under any disqualification to hold certain positions or to practise certain professions (including) local government, justices, magistrates, and legal practitioners”.
The Women’s Legal Status Act became law by December 1918 after a long-fought political battle, giving women the right to enter the Lower House of State Parliament and also to practise as solicitors, barristers and conveyancers in NSW. Six years after that, Marie Byles became the state’s first woman solicitor.
Today, 100 years on, women remain 217 years from pay and employment parity with men. That prediction, offered by the World Economic Forum in its 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, is an extra 48 years from the same parity forecast that was made in 2016.
The latest national profile of Australian solicitors showed that in 2016, the legal profession comprised an even gender distribution with 50.1 per cent female and 49.9 per cent male practitioners. Five years ago in 2011, 46.3 per cent of Australian practitioners were women to 53.7 per cent men.
For International Women’s Day (8 March), the Australian Women Lawyers Association (AWL) has published a list of major professional milestones achieved by some of the nation’s top lawyers. AWL president Ann-Maree David said that the organisation would address the cultural issues preventing more women from reaching the top spots in law later in the year at the AWL Biennial Conference.
Speaking on behalf of the AWL Board, Ms David noted that while Australian law schools were producing women graduates in greater numbers than men for many years, the number of women lawyers among senior ranks of the profession was still lagging.
“The slow rate of elevation of women lawyers to senior positions poses a significant succession problem,” Ms David said.
“The perpetual danger for the women coming through the ranks is, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’. That blind spot can only be overcome when more women lawyers are elevated to positions of influence.”
According to the AWL list, West Australia was the leading state for women lawyers who have been appointed to the judiciary in the past 12 months.
Since 8 March 2017, 10 women have joined the bench in WA, followed by Victoria (8 appointments), Queensland (7 appointments) and New South Wales (5 appointments).
Overall, 42 women were appointed to judicial office across the nation in the last 12 months.
“In celebrating IWD2018, AWL applauds the appointment of women lawyers to judicial office in Australia in the past year.
“We also congratulate those women lawyers recognised in the award of Australian Honours for their outstanding contributions to our society since IWD2017.”
Ms David added that the AWL was also issuing a collective call for gender parity.
According to the latest figures published by Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), of all full-time staff reported to be working in the legal services industry, men earned 29.7 per cent more in total remuneration for 2017. The relevant reported gender pay gap had improved by 0.8 per cent in the legal services industry since 2016. Numbers for the 2017 WGEA data were drawn from 68 organisations, employing a total of 28,154 Australians.
Australian women lawyers appointed to judicial office (8/3/17 – present)
The Hon. Justice Sarah Derrington (Federal Court, 10/1/18)
The Hon. Justice Katrina Banks-Smith (Federal Court, 12/2/18)
The Hon. Caroline Kirton QC (Federal Circuit Court, 29/01/18)
The Hon. Julia Baird SC (Federal Circuit Court, 20/2/18)
Australian Capital Territory
The Hon. Associate Justice Verity McWilliam (Supreme Court of ACT, 26/6/17)
Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson SC (Supreme Court of the ACT, commencing 26/3/2018)
New South Wales
The Hon. Justice Julia Lonergan (Supreme Court of NSW, 21/3/17)
Judge Gina O’Rourke (District Court of NSW, 30/1/18)
Magistrate Joy Boulos (Magistrates Court of NSW, 29/5/17)
Magistrate Theresa Hamilton (Magistrates Court of NSW, 11/9/17)
Acting Commissioner Susan Morris (Land and Environment Court NSW, 22/12/17)
Chief Magistrate Wendy Cull (Court of Petty Sessions of Norfolk Island, 8/6/17)
Her Honour Judge Sarah McNamara (Local Court of the NT, 14/3/17)
Judge Tracy Fantin (District Court of Qld, 16/10/17)
Judge Jennifer Rosengren (District Court of Qld, 11/9/17)
Magistrate Catherine Benson (Magistrates Court of Qld, 8/5/17)
Magistrate Michelle Dooley (Magistrates Court of Qld 8/5/17)
Magistrate Clare Kelly (Magistrates Court of Qld, 16/10/17)
Magistrate Louise Shephard (Magistrates Court of Qld, 16/10/17)
Magistrate Kerrie O'Callaghan (Magistrates Court of Qld, 30/10/17)
The Hon. Justice Judy Hughes (Supreme Court of SA, President of SACAT, 4/7/17)
Judge Liesl Chapman (District Court of SA, 31/10/17)
Judge Margaret Kelly (District Court of SA, 19/12/17)
Magistrate Kylie Schulz (Magistrates Court of SA, 18/9/17)
The Hon. Justice Michelle Quigley (Supreme Court of Vic, 20/12/17)
Her Honour Judge Aileen Ryan (County Court of Vic, 1/9/17)
Her Honour Judge Patricia Riddell (County Court of Vic, 22/11/17)
Her Honour Judge Julie Condon (County Court of Vic, 19/12/17)
Magistrate Abigail Burchill (Magistrates Court of Vic, 31/7/17)
Magistrate Carolyn Burnside (Magistrates Court of Vic, 31/7/17)
Magistrate Fran Medina (Magistrates Court of Vic, 21/9/17)
Magistrate Julie Grainger (Magistrates Court of Vic, 31/10/17)
The Hon. Justice Gail Archer (Supreme Court of WA, 29/5/17)
The Hon. Acting Justice Jennifer Smith (Supreme Court of WA, 31/10/17)
Judge Belinda Lonsdale (District Court of WA, 9/10/17)
Judge Fiona Vernon (District Court of WA, 8/1/18)
Judge Kathleen Glancy (District Court of WA, 8/1/18)
Judge Amanda Burrows (District Court of WA, 8/2/18)
Judge Wendy Gillan (District Court of WA, 12/2/18)
The Hon. Justice Gail Sutherland (Family Court of WA, 12/2/18)
Magistrate Belinda Coleman (Magistrates Court of WA, 6/11/17)
Acting Magistrate Leonie Forrest (Family Court of WA, 12/2/18)
Women Judicial Officers elevated to higher office (8/3/17 – present)
New South Wales
The Hon. Justice Julie Ward Chief Judge in Equity (from Judge of Appeal to Chief Judge in Equity Supreme Court of NSW, 15/3/17)
Senior Commissioner Susan Dixon (from Commissioner to Senior Commissioner of the Land and Environment Court NSW, 29/1/18)
Her Honour Deputy Chief Judge Elizabeth Morris (NT Local Court Judge to NT Local Court Deputy Chief Judge, 29/6/17)
The Hon. Justice Helen Bowskill (from District Court of Qld to Supreme Court of Qld, 10/7/17)
The Hon. Justice Ann Lyons (from Supreme Court of Qld Judge, to Supreme Court of Qld Senior Judge Administrator, 24/8/17)
The Hon. Chief Justice Anne Ferguson (from Judge of Court of Appeal Vic to Chief Justice of Victoria, 2/10/17)
Judge Carolene Gwynn (from Magistrates Court to County Court of Vic, 18/5/17)
Judge Julie Wager (from District Court to President of the Children’s Court of Western Australia, 15/3/18)