At this western Sydney firm, almost all the lawyers are women — but there’s more work to do

0


Updated

January 02, 2019 17:26:50

As women fight for a seat at the table in board rooms around the world, a western Sydney law firm has a woman sitting in almost every seat at its board room table.

Key points:

  • 33 of the 35 lawyers at Coutts Solicitors are women
  • However, of the 2,405 barristers in NSW, less than a quarter are women
  • Retiring Justice Ruth McColl believes there are not enough women appearing in the Court of Appeal

Managing Partner of Coutts Solicitors and Conveyancers Adriana Care runs the meetings, but every lawyer contributes to the conversation.

“We have a very flexible environment and the hierarchy is not as apparent, even though we all understand our experience and capabilities, but it’s not that you don’t have a voice just because you’re a year-out lawyer as opposed to a 20-year-out lawyer,” Ms Care told the ABC.

Of the 35 lawyers at Ms Care’s firm, 33 are women.

“When you build anything you’re always proud but it’s funny because it just evolved it’s not what I set to achieve,” she said.

“I feel it’s happening because I’m finding like-minded women who want what I want — they want to be able to share their intelligence, help their clients, have a career, have the flexibility — and that doesn’t just necessarily mean family it means anything they want to do.”

Women in NSW law have come a long way — they have just celebrated 100 years since legislation was passed to allow them to practise.

Today, 51 per cent of law graduates in NSW are female and there are equal numbers of male and female solicitors.

Despite the gains, there is still a lot of work to be done in the more senior ranks and leadership roles.

According to the NSW Bar Association, less than a quarter of the state’s 2,405 barristers are women.

When it comes to senior counsel, 392 are men and 44 are women.

‘Men’s club’ is changing

The gender disparity is something barrister Kellie Stares — who was admitted to the bar aged 23 — has felt during her career.

“It was very much a men’s club then, I was one of very few female barristers around,” Ms Stares told the ABC.

“It took a lot to kind of get up the guts to say ‘OK I can do this and I can match what any of these blokes are doing’ and do it just as well if not better.”

More than a decade since she passed the bar exam, Ms Stares — a mother-of-three — has an established a legal career.

“I can see that the change at the bar is moving in a more positive way towards women and being much more accepting, but while things are still moving in a really positive way I think we’ve still got some work to do.”

Ms Stares said she had experienced bullying from some male opponents and was troubled by International Bar Association figures revealing 37 per cent of Australia’s legal profession had experienced sexual harassment.

However, she added that she was fortunate enough to have countless male colleagues who see her as an equal and do not hesitate to brief her on important cases.

Retiring judge sees room for improvement

Getting more female barristers and senior counsel briefed to appear in the higher courts is essential to correcting the gender imbalance at the top, according to one of the women who has been up there — Justice Ruth McColl.

Justice McColl is retiring from the NSW legal profession after 46 years and a career including time as a solicitor, barrister, Supreme Court judge, and judge of the Court of Appeal.

“We still don’t see enough women appearing in the Court of Appeal, we see more, but not as many as we should compared to their success at the bar,” she said.

“They’re not appearing in the same sort of big trials as men are, so that really still has to improve dramatically and they are not being paid as much so that has to change.”

Justice McColl said when she started her career in the Crown Solicitor’s Office in 1972, there were only one or two other female solicitors and when she went to the bar in 1980 there were only 20 female barristers.

She recalled feeling “a form of social isolation because all the guys tended to drink together at the end of a hard day” but over time the culture started to change as more women moved up the ranks.

“I obviously knew I was not among many other women practitioners, but I probably consciously suppressed it and just tried to get on with the job as best as possible,” she said.

Justice McColl said the idea of being a trailblazer did not occur to her at the time, but looking back she thinks all the women working in law then were.

As Justice McColl steps down from the Court of Appeal her shoes will be filled by another extraordinarily accomplished woman, Justice Lucy McCallum, who has been elevated from the NSW Supreme Court.

Topics:

people,

community-and-society,

law-crime-and-justice,

sydney-2000

First posted

January 02, 2019 15:25:08



Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Powered by WP Robot

%d bloggers like this: