Female barristers receive more briefs but fall short on fees

By Naomi Neilson|18 September 2020
Female barristers

Despite an “encouraging” increase in the number of female senior and junior barristers being briefed on matters over the past three years, a new report has revealed that the gender pay gap is still significant and unlikely to hit the target in the next reporting year.

The number of briefs given to female barristers has had an encouraging increase over the last three years with a prediction it is likely to surpass the 30 per cent target by the next reporting year. However, despite this increase, female barristers are still sitting at a significantly less pay grade than their male barrister counterparts. 

Data from the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) Equitable Briefing Policy Annual Report found a much worse prospect for meeting the 30 per cent target for the value of briefs provided to female barristers. While the figures have increased over the past reporting periods, the current projection for the 2020 results is still set at 21 per cent. 

“Briefing rates for senior female barristers are still quite low in comparison to the senior male barristers, which may affect the total value of briefing fees for female barristers,” said LCA president Pauline Wright, adding that despite the amount of fees that female barristers receive has increased, “it’s still disappointing” the gender pay gap still exists.

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The LCA said it is encouraging, however, that the proportion of fees paid to the female barristers has increased by two percentage points between the first and second years of reporting and three percentage points between the second and third. However, the figures are not near enough to reach the 30 per cent target by the next reporting period.

These results come despite data that suggested a rise in the number of women being briefed on matters over the past three years. The LCA found that briefs given to female barristers increased by 2 per cent during the reporting year, with them now receiving 27 per cent of all briefs and on track to surpass the 30 per cent target. 

Building on the success of 2017-2018 – when the policy’s briefing target of 30 per cent for briefs to juniors was met – in 2018-2019, female junior barristers received 32 per cent of the total briefs given to juniors, a welcome increase of two percentage points. 

“If the rate of increases in briefing to juniors persists, the target for briefing the female barristers will be comfortably exceeded (by four percentage points) among the junior cohort by the time of reporting for the 2019-2020 reporting year,” the report noted. 

Additionally, 60 per cent of barristers recommended by senior reporting barristers that related to new matters were female and 62 per cent of the barristers recommending a junior reporting barrister for these new matters were female. 

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The report gave a special mention to entities that have exceeded targets for both value and briefs going to female barristers, including Australian Government Solicitors, Fair Work Ombudsman, Denning Insurance Law, VGSO and Hive Legal. 

“The Law Council launched the Equitable Briefing Policy with the aim of tracking equal opportunity within the profession. The latest data shows evidence of positive moves in the profession, especially for female junior barristers,” said Ms Wright. 

“It is pleasing to see that we are on track to meet one of the key targets, for the female barristers to be briefed in at least 30 per cent of all matters.”

Female barristers receive more briefs but fall short on fees
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