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Fewer women lawyers briefed as govt ups legal spend

The Commonwealth is spending more on legal services but less on briefing women counsel.

user iconThe New Lawyer 14 January 2011 The Bar
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THE Commonwealth is spending more on legal services but less on briefing women counsel.

As Attorney General, Robert McClelland, released the Legal Services Expenditure Report late last year, showing that an overall increase on legal services federally has not coincided with an increase in women briefs.

Of the 2821 briefs to counsel in the reporting period, 2085 were issued to male counsel and 736 to female counsel. This means that 73.9 per cent of all briefs to counsel went to male counsel.


This represents a slight increase in male briefs from the 2008–09 reporting period, which saw 72.6 per cent of all Commonwealth briefs. In 2008–09, 2280 briefs were issued to counsel and of those, 1655 briefs were issued to male counsel, and 625 briefs were issued to female counsel.

The Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW (WLA NSW) said the situation is “highly concerning”.

“It is not good enough to rest on our laurels simply because women received 24 percent of fees rendered in commonwealth expenditure on counsel, a proportionately greater percentage than the 19 percent figure for women at the Bar federally,” said Rebecca Barry, president of WLA NSW.

“The increased transparency and accountability that has come with the mandatory reporting requirements for equitable briefing, is only part of the solution. More needs to be done to ensure that the figures and percentages increase with every report that is released,” said Barry.

With the number of women graduating from university law schools being equal to or greater than the number of men for more than two decades, the women lawyers association said many have expected that it is inevitable that the statistics in relation to women will improve over time.

McClelland and the Report, meanwhile, emphasised that the figures indicate that women are briefed by the Commonwealth in greater proportion to their representation at the Bar.

It based this on the composition of the Bar nationally as reported in the Law Council of Australia’s report, 2009 Court Appearance Survey – Beyond the Statistical Gap. The report recorded that as at December 2008 the gender representation of men at the Bar was 81 per cent with women constituting 19 per cent.

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