The silk selection process in NSW is “gruelling” but “appropriate”, according to one of this year’s successful candidates for senior counsel.
Michelle Painter (pictured), a barrister at 6th and 7th Floor St James Hall Chambers, told Lawyers Weekly she was “very happy, and full of trepidation, and relieved all at the same time” when she heard she had been appointed silk.
Seven out of this year’s 24 silk appointments in NSW were female; a drop from last year when 12 out of 26 new silk appointees were women – the largest number of female barristers ever appointed as senior counsel on a single occasion.
However, the percentage of women making silk is still low, and Painter, who has been at the Bar since 1998, having previously worked in both private practice and the government sector, said she thinks the only way to tackle the low percentage of women making it to the top echelons of the Bar is to look at why such a low number of women are joining the Bar in the first place.
“I think the real assault on the numbers has to happen at the intake at first-year barrister level; and I think until women are coming to the Bar in much greater numbers than the 25 to 30 per cent that it stands at nowadays ... there will continue to be a disparity of male barristers.
“At senior level, seven to 10 years and up, there are about 80 to 85 per cent male barristers to 15 per cent women ... until we have more women coming in as barristers we’re not going to have more women barristers at the more senior levels, and achieving the ultimate promotion to senior counsel at the other end of their careers.”
The Women Lawyers Association of NSW (WLANSW) did, however, welcome the fact that for the second year running more than a quarter of silk appointees were women.
“WLANSW is delighted by the announcement of seven new women senior counsel and congratulates the NSW Bar Association on continuing to recognise the excellence of women barristers,” WLANSW president Margaret Holz said.
Painter, whose primary areas of practice are commercial law, equity and trade practices and competition law, said she expects her practice to go through a period of transition following her appointment as silk.
“I hope I do more work such as appellate work, which has not been a significant part of my practice to date,” she said.
“I think it will take some time before the changes [having been appointed silk] are really observable ... certainly I think I won’t be doing some of the smaller matters that I did a little bit of as a senior junior, but most of my practice was relatively well developed in the last few years in any event.”
This year’s full list of 24 silk appointees in NSW, in order of their length of service at the Bar, are:
Raoul David Wilson
Ian Roy Coleman
Nicholas Andrew Nicholls
Terence Michael Lynch
Eugene Guy Romaniuk
Julia Ann Baly
Mark Jeffrey Steele
Ian James Hemmings
Peter Ralph Cummings
Sally Christina Dowling
Michelle Alisa Clare Painter
Marcus Robert Pesman
Matthew Saxon White
Jeremy Richard Clarke
Helen McLeod Wilson
Thomas Gregory Howard
Anthony Stephen McGrath
Penelope Margot Wass
Nicholas Joseph Beaumont
Garry Kenneth James Rich
Michael Shaun Henry
Rasshelle Leah Seiden
Margaret Nita Allars
James Oleg Hmelnitsky