THE FINAL stages of a Law Council of Australia national model for an equal opportunity briefing policy for women barristers and advocates, which was put into action last year by the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, will be put to the directors of the Law Council this Saturday.
Prompted by a request from the Standing Committee of Attorneys General, the Law Council formed a working party late last year to develop a statement of principles on equalising opportunities, which would then be considered this weekend.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, Law Council president Bob Gotterson QC said the working group comprised representatives of Bars, briefing firms — including large law firms — and in-house counsel for institutional clients.
“We produced our own draft which was then submitted for comment to our constituent bodies and to public groups including the Australian Women Lawyers, Australian corporate lawyers, and major law firms, and we finalised the policy by taking their comments into account,” Gotterson said.
The emphasis had been on an inclusive approach, Gotterson explained, because “across the board professional support” was essential for its adoption and implementation. “For this it needs professional support in the institutional grants within the institutional clients,” he said.
As it stands, the policy deals predominantly with the briefing of women, but it is intended that the Council will be developing policies for other sections of the bar that are disadvantaged in briefing.
“These may include barristers from particular ethnic or religious backgrounds, those with particular disabilities. In Cairns we have a blind barrister who manages to practise at the Bar,” Gotterson said.
Careful consideration and attention will have to be given to the promotion and adoption of the policy, according to Gotterson. “What we have done so far has just been the starting point.”
While the first job of the working group was to develop the policy, the next step will be to work on strategies to encourage adoption and promotion of it by law firms and institutional clients, as well as the other briefing agencies of the policy.
“It is all very well to adopt a policy, but to encourage implementation is just as important. So the working group will be looking at strategies to encourage implementation of it,” he said.
The main thrust of the meeting on Saturday will be to attempt to increase professional awareness of women at the Bar, and to encourage the keeping of data that shows how briefers are succeeding in implementing the new policy, Gotterson said.
“We will be proposing to the directors a paper that will support the adoption of the policy, and I suspect it will be readily approved,” he concluded.