The lack of diversity at the NSW Bar has been at the centre of a review into the Law Council Equitable Briefing Policy.
NSW Bar Association president Jane Needham commissioned an Equitable Briefing Policy Working Group following a NARS Report that confirmed problems have persisted with the retention and promotion of women at the NSW Bar, notwithstanding the adoption of the Law Council Equitable Briefing Policy in 2004.
“The purpose of the review was to meet head-on the very real issue of a lack of diversity at the Bar,” Ms Needham said.
Women make up 20.95 per cent of the Bar and only 9.92 per cent of its senior members. While this has increased significantly from women making up only 12.4 per cent of the Bar and 2.5 per cent of senior members in 2000, it still doesn't represent equality.
“Given that women make up over 50 per cent of university graduates in law, the Bar needs to position itself as an inclusive, diverse profession to ensure that the Bar properly reflects the society in which it operates,” Ms Needham said.
The review claims that the policy does not establish tangible obligations as to outcomes, there is no comprehensive register of individuals, firms, agencies or corporations that have adopted the policy, and the policy does not impose an obligation to implement, monitor or report on adherence to the policy.
This has led to the Working Group making four recommendations in their review.
Firstly, the policy requires updating to ensure there is a transparent and accountable system in place to monitor equitable briefing practices. Adoption of the policy should be accompanied by notification or publication of its adoption internally and externally.
Secondly, targets should be set for the briefing of women counsel in two-year stages for 2017 and 2019. By 2017, 10 per cent of all briefs to Senior Counsel should be to females; 20 per cent of all briefs to counsel over five years' seniority should be to females; and 35 per cent of all briefs to counsel under five years' seniority should be to females. Targets for 2019 will be updated to reflect the reporting provided by policy adoptees.
Thirdly, firms with 25 or more lawyers should collect and report on the number of counsel briefed, the number of those counsel who are Senior Counsel, and the number of those counsel who were briefed as an advocate for both men and women separately each year.
Lastly, regardless of whether the proposed amendments are adopted, the current policy and/or any revised policy must have effective implementation strategies.
The NARS Report also found that men earn around 38 per cent more than their female co-workers at the NSW Bar. Ms Needham said: “The pay gap is evident at all levels of practice at the Bar and is not reflective of seniority or experience.”
Furthermore, the NARS Report found that some participants experienced sex discrimination and women reported being denied work or opportunities purely on the basis of gender.
“Urgent action is required to ensure that women are considered for briefs in which they are qualified to act on a level playing field with men,” Ms Needham said.
Ms Needham reported that the Bar Council approved the report being provided to the Law Council for consideration by its constituent members.
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