WHILE FIRMS across Australia are touting equal opportunities for their female staff as a priority, national law firm Clayton Utz has entrenched the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA’s) equal opportunity briefing policy across all practice areas.
But the thing that sets the firm apart from others, Clayton Utz argues, is not that it has adopted the policy, but that it has backed it up with an “all important” tracking mechanism. It is the only firm to do this nationally, Clayton Utz claims.
In order to genuinely implement the LCA’s Model Equal Opportunity Briefing Policy, firms need to be able to monitor and track the engagement of female barristers across all areas of law, said Clayton Utz managing partner for litigation, Stuart Clark.
“Clayton Utz will periodically report on the nature and rate of these engagements to the various Bar associations,” Clark said. “This will assist them to understand whether the implementation of the policy is having a demonstrable effect on briefing practices.”
Clark cited recent data that indicate women are significantly underrepresented in receiving briefs. He said the firm’s program will recognise some “untapped talent” and assist female barristers to build on their skills and meet the requirements of law firms and their clients.
Victorian Women Lawyers Association member Kate Marshall has praised the firm’s adoption and treatment of the policy. When the LCA’s policy was introduced, Marshall was concerned that law firms would say they were willing to adopt it but not fully institute it into their business models. Firms need to identify available female counsel across all relevant practices, according to Marshall. The firm needs to believe that wherever there is an opportunity the policy should apply, “not just in matters where there is litigation”, she said.
“Privacy was also an important consideration in tracking the process and, while the information will be thoroughly monitored via a discrete reporting system, we have to make certain that there will not be any references to particular matters or barristers,” Marshall said.
All staff need to be educated, both legal and non legal. The entire firm needs to understand why the policy matter and partners need to be conscious of their subjective preference when they seek to brief a barrister, she said. “We believe that what we are doing will make people more aware of a broader pool of new barristers.”
Law Council of Australia president-elect John North said last week that the equitable briefing practices will open up access to qualified female barristers. But its wider view, North said, is equal opportunities no matter of race, ethnicity or disability.
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