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Celebrating women in law this International Women’s Day

For International Women’s Day 2020, Lawyers Weekly takes at where the legal sector can improve for female lawyers in future as we celebrate a year of women in law.

user iconNaomi Neilson 06 March 2020 Big Law
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Women in the legal profession have had a lot of wins over the last year, from workplace policies and leadership changes to greater representation in firms and at the bar. This International Women’s Day (IWD) it’s important to remember the contributions and the achievements of women across the entire legal profession.

This celebration, however, comes as a reminder that there is still more to be done. To get an idea, Lawyers Weekly spoke to Australian Women Lawyers president Adrienne Morton, who first pointed out the noticeable firsts in quasi-judicial positions.

This includes the appointment of Janine Pritchard, the first female president of the Western Australia State Administrative Tribunal. Women are beginning to be seen more in leadership.


But although there are wins, there are still significant gaps: “While there has been the apparent increase in the numbers of women being appointed judicial officers around the country, the appointments to the Commonwealth courts is still falling short,” she said.

Only one out of seven appointments to the Federal Court of Australia, two out of three appointments to the Family Court of Australia and the four out of seven appointments to the Federal Circuit Court in the relevant period are women.

The most recent data from Per Capita found almost two-thirds of graduates in law firms nationally are women and yet they are more likely to experience a significant pay gap and be overlooked for career progression opportunities.

Despite equal or higher representation at graduate levels, women are much less likely to advance to the highest professional levels in law, with only 33 per cent of women – and half the rate of female graduates – going on to become equality partners in a firm.

Although starting salaries tend to be the same regardless of gender, as women move up, the gender pay gap becomes worse. These figures relate to people employed on a full-time basis, on salaries that often include salary packaging and annual bonuses.

NSW Bar Association president Tim Game said the legal profession has come a long way but “there is still more to be done before the bar reflects composition of society.”

“A diverse bar reflects the community we serve and [promote] public confidence in the administration of justice,” Mr Game said. “We are proud that diversity within the bar continues to increase, both in terms of gender, ethnicity and social diversity.

The Per Capita Measure for Measure: Gender Equality in Australia report also found the representation of women, particularly women in law, in media was lacking. Just 40 per cent of stories about law are written by female journalists. Worse still, only 5 per cent of lawyers quoted in articles were women.

“If we return to the moniker ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’, the Australian media is certainly sending a strong message to girls and women about what they can and can’t be,” Per Capita authors Emma Dawson, Tanja Kovac and Abigail Lewis noted.

Here at Lawyers Weekly, we’re always open to celebrating the achievements of female lawyers and all women in law. This International Women’s Day we take a look back at 10 articles written by women, about women, for women and celebrating women.

1. Celebrating women in law
In its eighth year, the Women in Law Awards was the biggest yet, having hosted over 700 finalists, families and supporters to celebrate the many admirable females in law. The awards was a chance for women across the legal profession to showcase their skills and incredible achievements. Lawyers Weekly celebrates the wonderful winners.

2. Stop addressing women as ‘Sirs’
Legalite principle lawyer Marianne Marchesi wrote about an email exchange she had with another solicitor who insisted on addressing her as Sir. She said that addressing women as “Sirs” is the perfect example of how undermining women is normalised and male privilege is so entrenched that addressing a woman as “Madam” is unthinkable.

3. Firms must ‘influence status quo’ to improve Asian Australian leadership
The Australian legal profession has a long way to go to improve gender disparities and Asian Australian leadership. To get an idea of how much it needs to improve, we spoke to King & Wood Mallesons partner in charge-Sydney Katrina Rathie who said firms will need to “advocate for change” to create a workplace that closes gender gaps.

4. 20 law firms named as gender equality leaders
Recently, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency published a list of 20 law firms which were recognised as leaders in gender equality within the workplace. To get an idea of how the firms are celebrating women, Lawyers Weekly reached out to each of the top firms and spoke about the way they have implemented diversity and inclusion policies.

5. Should law firms implement gender quotas and targets?
Lawyers Weekly asked six people from the legal profession what their thoughts are on firms implementing gender quotas and targets and while not all were onboard with the idea, it was unanimous that the profession has a long way to go in this space.

6. How lawyers navigate the ‘interesting and unusual’ world of criminal law
There are many incredible women doing incredible things in the law. One such woman is Trudie Cameron, a young lawyer working in the criminal law space. She broke down how the profession deals with ethics, media and what future lawyers should expect.

7. Female management representation up year-on-year
Research released in November 2019 found there was a slight increase in the number of women in management positions across Australia. In the prior 12 months, more than 40 per cent of manager promotions and appointments went to female leaders.

8. An open letter to my sons following International Women’s Day
Law Squared director Catherine Brooks published an open letter following 2019’s IWD to discuss the importance of gender equality, both personally and professionally. She wrote the piece for her young sons, Remington and Raymond.

9. Global law firm confirms 40:40:20 target
A global law firm announced new worldwide aspirational targets, composed of 40 per cent women, 40 per cent men and 20 per cent flexibility across women, men and non-binary positions. Baker McKenzie designed it for partners, firm committee leaderships, candidate pools for recruitment and senior business professionals.

10. Victoria’s landmark gender equality laws to improve workplaces
Landmark laws were introduced to Victoria to hold workplaces responsible for the way it treats its female staff to ensure they are afforded the opportunities they deserve. The change is a major win for female lawyers, who are generally outnumbered.