DEMAND STILL outstrips supply, but there will soon be more opportunities for law students in Victoria to meet and learn from members of the profession first-hand, thanks to an initiative of the two peak bodies that represent women lawyers in the state.
Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) and Women Barristers Associations (WBA) have joined forces to provide a mentoring program for law students in Victoria. The program was officially launched by Chief Justice Marcia Neave this week at the offices of DLA Phillips Fox in Melbourne.
VWL Convener Christine Melis explained the background to the scheme, recounting the now-familiar statistics about the dramatic drop in the number of women lawyers in the upper echelons of the legal profession,
“[More than] 70 per cent of law graduates are female — we know this, and we’ve known this for a very long time. Yet the number of female partners is less than 20 per cent, it’s minimal and women are dropping off at certain stages after about three to five years,” Melis said.
“We are very conscious of this and we don’t know what exactly the reasons are, but they can include disillusionment, women not quite knowing which direction to take in their careers, [the lack of] proper mentoring or having influences and mentors in their life that they aspire to be like, or not being able to find the proper support networks within their organisations that will allow them to have a family.”
Melis said that law students at Monash University had made clear their desire for more structured mentoring opportunities.
“While there have been attempts at mentoring programs before through various other organisations, including VWL, it’s been sort of on an ad-hoc basis,” said Melis. “And we wanted to join forces this time around and really establish a hallmark mentoring program.”
The program has invited expressions of interest from students at all the universities in Victoria offering legal degrees, including Monash University, Melbourne University, Deakin University, La Trobe and Victoria University. More than 300 students have signed up for a mentor, and, at this stage, supply exceeds demand.
“I guess that in itself is a real indicator of the need for such a program among law students,” Melis said.
“Interestingly, we even had quite a few emails come through from article clerks asking if they could be involved — but this time round we have confined it to students. But certainly seeing that there’s been interest from AC’s as well, it is something that we’re keen to pursue perhaps next year.”
The launch will offer a chance for the mentors and their charges to meet for the first time, and in addition to drinks and canapés, guidelines for the mentor program will be distributed.
Each pair will be encouraged to meet on a monthly basis for the six-month duration of the scheme. Aside from that, Melis said, the guidelines are not set in stone — but the organisers hope that the program will offer students the chance to attend chambers, court or visit their mentors in the office environment.
Mentors will also assist students with questions about seasonal clerkship applications and discuss the new traineeship system about to come into force in Victoria.