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Too soon to be optimistic about equitable briefing targets, barrister says

The Victorian government is confident sticking to equitable briefing targets will see more women in courtrooms, but one barrister says she cannot share the same optimism just yet.

user iconNaomi Neilson 28 December 2023 Big Law
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Victorian government solicitor Matthew Hocking told The Lawyers Weekly Show the requirements for firms to report and track their equitable briefing could drive performance “much differently and better” and lead to more women barristers being briefed.

While this optimism is welcome, barrister and former convener of the Women Barristers’ Association, Kylie Weston-Scheuber, said the last two decades have shown that despite an increase in female law students, the same cannot be said of partners and barristers.

Ms Weston-Scheuber said there are too many “systemic issues” preventing statistics numbers from rising at leadership levels.


“There has been change, and I am pleased to see that change, but it has been incremental, and it’s not always consistent.

“There are things that go backwards over time as forwards, so it’s a matter of being constantly vigilant and never assuming that equality has been achieved, because it hasn’t,” Ms Weston-Scheuber said.

Ms Weston-Scheuber said one of the major issues facing equitable briefing policies is the lack of readily available statistics about the number of women barristers who are appearing in court.

She said there is “obviously a problem” if a third of barristers in Victoria are women but these figures are not being reflected.

“That’s why gender equitable briefing policies exist, and that’s why it’s really important that we keep having these conversations and monitoring progress,” Ms Weston-Scheuber added.

Ms Weston-Scheuber said what it also comes down to is the culture within law firms, and while there are solicitors who are “really great” at taking the right steps, they cannot hold up a firm on their own.

She said it must go beyond equitable briefing policies, including monitoring progress more than once a year.

“If we want our legal profession to be truly representative of the broader community … then we need to keep the legal profession relevant, and we need to keep it representative of the community.

“If we want to do that, then we need to make sure that briefing is equitable and that extends beyond gender to other forms of diversity as well,” Ms Weston-Scheuber said.

“We need to be constantly working towards that because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the best thing to do.”

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