Today is International Women’s Day, a day recognised each year on March 8 to acknowledge the socioeconomic, cultural and political achievements of women.
The global day has been recognised in some capacity for over a century, with the first gathering to commemorate the occasion held in 1911.
This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, with an aim of generating discussion on themes such as women’s equality, stereotypes, bias, gender parity and discrimination.
A key target has been achieved in this space by the Law Council of Australia (LCA) this week, by way of a policy it designed to improve equity within the legal profession and to track and increase opportunities for female lawyers.
The ‘Equitable Briefing Policy’, launched by the LCA in 2016, was put in place to contribute to cultural change within the profession, address the pay gap between men and women in law, support the retention of female barristers and to address the underrepresentation of women in the superior courts.
LCA President Tass Liveris said the policy was now being reviewed to consider further improvements to support the LCA’s commitment to an inclusive and diverse profession.
“A key target was to have women barristers briefed in at least 30% of all matters by 1 July 2020,” he said. “Data released (yesterday) shows this objective has been achieved, with 31% of briefs going to women barristers as at the end of the 2019-2020 financial year.”
The 2019-2020 reporting period found that of the 32,995 total briefs, 31% (10,291) of these briefs went to female barristers and 69% (22,704) went to male barristers. This exceeded the policy’s target by one percentage point and represents an increase of four percentage points from the previous reporting year.
“Female junior barristers were briefed at an even higher rate, receiving 37% of briefs,” Mr Liveris said. “This is an important measure as receiving briefs helps junior barristers gain more experience and further develop their legal career.”
The LCA had a similar goal for reducing the gap between fees paid to male and female barristers.
“While the gap has reduced, unfortunately our aspiration regarding the proportion of fees paid to women barristers was not realised,” Mr Liveris said. “However, it is gratifying that there has been steady improvement in each of the major categories since the policy came into effect.
“In 2016-2017, only 20% of briefs went to female barristers and the proportion of fees being paid to women barristers stood at just 15%.”
23% of fees that briefing entities reported paying in 2019-20 went to women.
Mr Liveris said that, beyond the quantitative data, the policy had been effective in drawing attention to issues of gender equity and had prompted entities to reflect on briefing practices.
“The policy continues to provide a strong and motivating base for improving choices, optimising opportunities for practice development and promoting the full use of the independent bar in Australia,” he said.
“We cannot be complacent though.
“We are now reviewing the policy to consider improvements we might make to further support the Law Council’s longstanding commitment to a diverse and inclusive legal profession.”