The new president of the NSW Bar Association told Lawyers Weekly that her term will focus on gender equality, diversity and the changing nature of barristers’ practice.
Jane Needham SC (pictured) from 13th Floor St James’ Hall has placed gender issues at the top of the Bar Association’s agenda for 2014.
The newly-elected president is also the chair of a working party that is looking at the findings of the Law Council of Australia’s National Attrition and Re-engagement Study, which Needham claimed has “far reaching implications for the Bar”.
The study found that female barristers had experienced both conscious and unconscious bias. Conscious bias included female barristers being denied briefs because clients preferred male counsel.
The research also suggested that it can be difficult for barristers to balance the demands of their role with other responsibilities, such as family.
Needham, a mother of three, said she has “a conviction that inflexible or family-unfriendly environments should not … be the practice norm”.
“Flexible practice is not simply a ‘women’s’ issue, nor even a ‘parenting’ issue – almost every barrister has other calls on his or her time, and I would like to focus on greater acceptance of individual approaches to work,” she said.
Needham also admitted that she thought long and hard about how the president’s role would affect her own family responsibilities.
“I decided that I could make a contribution to the Bar as president … in particular I could show, by being a woman president with a young family, that it was possible to manage both,” she added.
Another issue that will be on Needham’s radar is the high rate of depression at the Bar.
Needham said she plans to review the level of awareness of BarCare, a confidential counselling service for barristers. A report into BarCare in Victoria last year found that a growing number of practitioners are seeking help for stress reactions, including anxiety or depression.
Needham added that the NSW Bar Association is also a strong supporter of the recently-released Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation psychological wellbeing guidelines, which aim to reduce the high rate of depression among legal practitioners.
Letting sleeping dogs lie
Needham replaces Phillip Boulten SC, who had been the Bar Association’s president for the past 18 months.
Boulten was a strong opponent of the push to allow barristers to incorporate last year, and more recently, opposed an effort by sections of the NSW Bar to return to the Queen’s Counsel post-nominal for silks.
Needham commented that the retention of the current SC system was “a decision made, correctly in my view, on the basis of there being no public interest in any change”, adding that she has no plans to revisit the issue.