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Why Justice Jagot’s appointment is a win for female lawyers

The accession of Justice Jayne Jagot to the High Court of Australia is significant for myriad reasons, writes Stefanie Costi.

user iconStefanie Costi 29 September 2022 The Bar
Why Justice Jagot’s appointment is a win for female lawyers
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I remember sitting in a tutorial at law school back in 2013, wondering why there had only been four women appointed to the bench of the High Court of Australia.

That did not sit right with me for three reasons.

First, I identified as a woman. Would my gender limit my career prospects? Was I ever going to advance in the law? Why was the highest court in the land male-dominated?


Second, most of my peers sitting in that tutorial were female. Why was the judiciary not reflective of modern society?

Third, it painted the picture to female law students and lawyers rising through the ranks in the legal profession that being a woman was an Achilles heel.

When Justice Michelle Gordon was appointed back in 2015 and Justice Jacqueline Gleeson in 2021 to the High Court of Australia, I breathed a sigh of relief. The legal profession was definitely moving in the right direction.

But, reading the headlines that Justice Jayne Jagot was replacing Justice Patrick Keane and that the appointment secures a majority of female justices on the bench of the High Court of Australia for the first time in its 112-year history today spoke volumes to me and the rest of the legal profession.

It tells us that the quintessential stereotype of a successful lawyer in Australia is no longer a white, Anglo-Saxon man.

It tells us that diversity in the legal profession is vital in ensuring that the judiciary represents the community in which it serves.

It tells us that women in the law can advance based on merit and not gender, and enjoy a bright future in the law.

But, most of all, it tells females in the legal profession (of which 54 per cent are female and 46 per cent are male, according to the Law Society’s 2021 Annual Profile of Solicitors in NSW, for instance) that their sex does not limit their career prospects and that it is not a barrier to how successful you can be.

After all, as Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, said, you cannot be who you cannot see.

Without strong female role models to look up to, many young women will self-select out of being lawyers before they even give it a go.

That is not what the Australian legal profession needs.

Stefanie Costi is a lawyer at Garland Hawthorn Brahe.