WOMEN lawyers have been left reeling over the results of a national survey looking at the gap between the appearances of women and men in the courts.
The results of the Law Council of Australia’s 2009 Gender Appearance Survey confirm the disparity between the appearances of women and men before New South Wales courts, spurring the body representing women lawyers in New South Wales into finding out more.
The Women Lawyers’ Association of New South Wales (WLA NSW) have long been aware of the gender gap between women and men appearing in the states courts, it said.
Currently only 6 per cent of senior counsel or Queen’s counsel, and 18 per cent of barristers overall, in New South Wales are women, the WLA NSW said.
The Law Council's Gender Appearance Survey results reveal that male SCs and QCs appeared in 91 per cent, and female SCs and QCs appeared in 9 per cent, of court matters during the surveyed period.
Male junior counsel appeared in 80 per cent and female junior counsel appeared in 20 per cent of matters during the surveyed period. The average appearance time of male barristers was 4.3 hours, and the average appearance time for female barristers was 3.9 hours.
“Claims that the overall findings for New South Wales suggest that there is no significant difference between survey appearance rates and the actual Bar populations of both male and female barristers in this state, while perhaps true, provide a false sense of security,” says Lee-May Saw, immediate past president and chair of research and policy for WLA NSW.
While commending the Law COuncil of its efforts to obtain quality date, the WLA NSW said it is concerned about the lack of research, sponsorship and funding being dedicated to identifying and monitoring the progression of women in the legal profession, and the factors that affect their career choices in the law.
In an effort to tip the scales, or at least determine why the data sits as it currently does, WLA NSW is now partnering with the Australian National University (ANU) in putting together a survey of final year law students, tracking the progress and career decisions of law graduates in New South Wales and the ACT.
Some of the issues the survey will address are why women are refraining from commencing careers at the Bar, and why on going to the Bar, women are not necessarily staying there, it said.
“In an era where women have been graduating from New South Wales university law schools in numbers equal to or greater than men for more than a decade, it is simply not good enough that the figures for appearances before courts in this state continue to dominantly and significantly favour men,” said Saw.
“Why is it that the numbers for women graduating from university law schools are not being reflected in the numbers for appearances before our courts? What can be done about this obvious difference, which clearly shows the overwhelming majority of fees earned for litigation work in New South Wales continues to line the pockets of men?," said Saw.