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Gender bias still occurring at the Bar

Gender bias still occurring at the Bar

The Women Lawyers Association of NSW has hit out at the continued disparity that exists between men and women appearing before NSW courts, following survey results released this week by the Law…

The Women Lawyers Association of NSW has hit out at the continued disparity that exists between men and women appearing before NSW courts, following survey results released this week by the Law Council of Australia

The 2009 Gender Appearance Survey, undertaken in conjunction with Australian Women Lawyers (WLA), found that only 18 per cent of barristers in NSW are women, with female SCs and QCs appearing in just 9 per cent of court matters.

The disparity appeared only slightly better across NSW junior counsel, with 80 per cent of male junior counsel and 20 percent of female junior counsel appearing in matters during the survey period. Even the length of appearances between genders carried a significant disparity, with male barristers appearing before the courts on average for 4.3 hours and female barristers appearing on average for 3.9 hours.

Nationally, such a disparity appeared less obvious, with the Law Council finding that female barristers are proportionally appearing before the courts on an equal basis to men.

But also nationally, the Law Council did find that private law firms were more likely to brief male barristers - especially when compared to government agencies.

Lee-May Saw, the immediate past president and chair of research and policy for WLA said in a statement that with more women graduating with law degrees than men, it is not good enough that the state and the courts continue to favour men.

"What can be done about this obvious difference, which clearly shows the overwhelming majority of fees earned for litigation work in NSW continues to the pockets of men?" she asked.

But John Corcoran, president of the Law Council, instead said on Monday that the survey findings should be viewed as positive.

"Statistically, female barristers Australia-wide are appearing in our courts in the same proportions as they exist in the Bar population - and this is very pleasing," he said.

Australian Women Lawyers president Olivia Perkis said the results reflect a need for the industry to further develop policies to encourage women to join the Bar and "make it an attractive, long-term career where they can receive complex, well-paid work and opportunities for promotion".

Corocran said the Law Council is currently working on such a strategy and investigating solutions for change.

Any gender disparity occuring in law currently appears particuarly pertinent following a report released this week by Goldman Sachs that showed further participation of women in the Australian workforce would assist in bolstering our economy - results which Sex Discrimination Commissioner and former lawyer Liz Broderick said reflects the need for employers to respond to the aspirations and desires of women.

The Goldman Sachs report, Australia's Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation found that closing the gap between female and male employment across all sectors will increase Australia's GDP by 11 per cent.

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Gender bias still occurring at the Bar
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