JANE MACONACHIE’S varied career in the law seemed pre-destined: with two lawyers as parents, it was no surprise that Jane and her three siblings all graduated from university with law degrees. After graduating from Sydney University, her first legal role was as tipstaff to the Honourable Justice Clifton Ralph Russell Hoeben AM RFD in the Supreme Court of New South Wales (as he then was). She was admitted as a solicitor in 2006, and practised at the boutique firm Atanaskovic Hartnell.
After several years practising as a solicitor, like her father and brother, Jane was called to the New South Wales Bar. She read on Seven Selborne with tutors Edward Muston SC and Ian Pike SC, and practised as a barrister until 2013 when the lure of a large firm lifestyle saw her move to Gadens Lawyers Sydney, which has recently joined Dentons, the world’s largest law firm by headcount.
Jane said, “While I really enjoyed my practice as a barrister, it can be very solitary, and as a social person, I really enjoyed the transition to working on matters as part of a larger team at Gadens. I hadn’t yet experienced the collegiate atmosphere of working at a larger firm and Gadens lived up to my expectations with interesting matters and an excellent team.”
After 10 years as a litigator, she left private practice to join Thomson Reuters, helping develop and market its innovative know-how solution, Practical Law Australia, the Australian version of the much-loved go-to for practical knowledge in both the UK and US.
“Having moved from the Bar to a law firm and then into the corporate space, it has been interesting to experience how different organisations operate and position themselves in terms of the promotion of the advancement of women. We are making advances in terms of female progression to the upper ranks of the NSW Bar and within law firms; however, clearly there is still a lot of work to do to create and foster opportunities for women to excel,” she noted.
In terms of the NSW Bar, while there are 2,328 barristers practising in NSW, only 40, or 10.2 per cent of senior counsel are female.  Similarly, the New South Wales Law Society puts the average female partner percentage at 23.7 per cent compared with the profession as a whole, of which women make up 48.5 per cent.  Jane recounted, “Working with Practical Law Australia is satisfying because it is about helping other lawyers deliver value in the way they manage their practice.
“By assisting lawyers to work on their matters more efficiently, hopefully it will become possible for lawyers to improve their work/life balance and enjoy more flexibility in their day-to-day practice.”
With this in mind, she has been active in promoting the Thomson Reuters Change Makers’ event series with their inspiring panels of speakers focusing on gender diversity. The first event in this series, You Can’t Be What You Can’t See – Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law, featured insights from diversity champions Sue Kench, Chief Executive Partner, Australia, King & Wood Mallesons; Michelle Dixon, Partner and Chief Executive Officer, Maddocks; and Hiroshi Narushima, Partner, Gilbert + Tobin.
“We are trying to promote a conversation that encourages firms to continue moving towards innovative solutions to support diversity. It’s important for firms to proactively promote gender diversity in concrete ways. For example, if we can transform society’s traditional thinking about childcare being primarily a woman’s responsibility, then firms and organisations can work towards taking steps to make it easier for both parents to balance working and looking after their children. One initiative some firms are employing is a policy where all core business meetings are required to be scheduled between 10am and 4pm, to make it easier for their lawyers to drop off and pick up their children.
“Additionally, removing the pressure to work late for the sake of appearances, while implementing measures to help lawyers work from home, can increase productivity, employee engagement and effectiveness.
“There are lots of potential solutions and no one-size-fits-all, so it’s important for the legal profession to open up the conversation to develop solutions that suit both lawyers’ and clients’ needs. It would be great to see major clients demanding that their law firms have a strong diversity policy: if clients demand it, then everyone wins.”
You Can’t Be What You Can’t See - Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law took place on Friday, 5 May 2017. Further events in the Thomson Reuters Change Makers’ series will be held throughout 2017.
 Larissa Andelman, chair of the Workplace Practices Sub-Committee, Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW Inc.