Author: AWL

President Leah Marrone and Board member Jessica Sabapathy spoke about diversity in Judicial appointments:  https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/wig-chamber/34104-ketanji-brown-jackson-s-confirmation-a-catalyst-for-opportunity-in-australia   The “landmark” development of the first African-American woman being confirmed to the United States Supreme Court is a reminder that Australia’s judiciary also needs to ensure it is representative of the entire community, said advocates. Earlier today (Thursday, US time), Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals was confirmed as the newest justice of the US Supreme Court, having been confirmed by a bipartisan vote of 53-47 in the US Senate. Judge Jackson will be just the third justice of African-American descent to serve on the highest court in America, and the sixth woman. Alongside existing justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett, soon-to-be Justice Jackson will be the fourth woman on the bench of nine – the first time in America’s history the gender split on the Supreme Court has come so close to parity. Also of significance is the fact that whilst she is the third justice of African-American descent, she is the first such woman to be confirmed to the lifetime appointment. The appointment serves as a reminder of the need to continually strive for and ensure representative diversity in Australia’s judiciary. And while, as Attorney-General Michaelia Cash recently noted, the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (FCFCOA) now boasts 51 per cent female judges – the first time a Federal Court has achieved such a milestone – there is still a way to go across the board. As noted by Australian Women Lawyers president Leah Marrone and board member Jessica Sabapathy, while there has been some diversity in appointments in recent years, the judiciary in Australia is a “long way off of reflecting the cultural diversity of the community”. Lessons from Justice Jackson’s confirmation It is with “great excitement”, Law Society of NSW president Joanne van der Plaat said, that Ketanji Brown Jackson be confirmed to the US Supreme Court, given, as she noted, less than 2 per cent of all US judges have ever been black women. “Moments like these are catalysts for opportunity – they inspire us to act and to encourage greater diversity at the decision-making table,” she declared. Law Institute of Victoria president-elect and Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) national president Molina Asthana agreed that the confirmation is a “landmark development” for diversity in the judiciary and is something that Australia should “also emulate”. “We know that the lack of diversity in the senior ranks of the legal profession, including the bench, is a major issue in Australia, not only for practitioners but the litigants,” she said. “Though we have full faith that judges dispense justice impartially and uphold the rule of law, however ‘justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done’. This is a central feature of the administration of justice under the common law. Where litigants do not feel confident that their issues and nuances are understood because of the lack of diversity on the bench, it perpetuates the perception that there has been a miscarriage of justice.” While the Australian legal profession has worked to boost cultural diversity in recent years, Ms van der Plaat reflected, more work is required to ensure cultural diversity in legal workplaces and to ensure that the legal profession, across the board, is one where difference is valued and celebrated. “Creating an environment where every person, regardless of their background, has opportunities and support to reach their professional potential provides better outcomes for both the wider community and the profession itself,” she surmised. The judiciary, Ms Marrone and Ms Sabapathy said, should be representative of the community. “Judges are expected to make their decisions with the attitudes and expectations of the community in mind so it is important to have people with diverse experiences of life on the bench to ensure that the judiciary is truly reflective of the community it serves,” they submitted. Where Australia is falling short While not all state and territory jurisdictions in Australia collect data on diversity in its various forms of the profession, Ms Marrone and Ms Sabapathy noted, existing data does demonstrate that greater efforts are needed to recognise the achievements of people from diverse backgrounds and to support their career progression. A lack of judicial diversity – or, as some media outlets have described it, a “pale, male and stale” makeup on the benches – is perhaps somewhat due to the extraordinary gender gap at the bar. In NSW, three in four (75.44 per cent) of the state’s 2,439 barristers are male, and men make up even more of the state’s senior counsel (i.e., QC or SC), with 85.53 per cent of the 401 such silks. These figures mirror that of the Sunshine State: in Queensland, men make up 74.5 per cent of the state’s 1,391 barristers, according to the Queensland Bar Association’s latest annual report. It should be noted, however, that in the 2020-21 financial year, 44.9 per cent of the new practising barristers in Queensland were women, hinting at incremental progress towards parity. In private practice, a 2019 survey of nearly 5,000 staff members of Australia’s largest 11 law firms – the Law Firm Cultural Survey, which was an initiative of the Managing Partners Forum and conducted in collaboration with AALA – identified that while one in four law graduates was of an Asian background, just 8 per cent of partners in those firms have Asian heritage. More than one media outlet has described this as a “bamboo ceiling”. Elsewhere, and as detailed in the fifth National Profile of Solicitors Report, which was published in July of last year, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal professionals has not increased since 2014, having remained stagnant at 0.8 per cent of the entire cohort of lawyers in Australia. This, of course, is not proportionate to the number of Indigenous Australians as part of the entire national population. Trawlwoolway (Palawa) woman Leah Cameron – who is the founder and principal of Marrawah Law and winner of the Indigenous Lawyer of the Year and Excellence Award categories at the 2020 Women in Law Awards – said that, to date, no person of colour had been appointed to Australia’s High Court. “In a country with the world’s oldest living culture and a culture built on immigration, this is a real gap,” she observed. “Ideally, a nation’s High Court should reflect its population, in particular the diversity of its population in terms of race and gender. As the High Court draws from the Australian legal sector, it is to be expected that there are significant gaps in both cultural and gender diversity,” Ms Cameron outlined. “This lack of diversity is evident across Australia’s justice system.” The community must have trust in the law and the legal system for it to work effectively, Ms Cameron espoused. “The law has to be exercised in a way that reflects understanding of the community in which it exists. If judges, magistrates, and senior practitioners in our legal system do not share the diverse lived experience of the community, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to create that fundamental trust and mutual understanding,” she said. Greater diversity will improve the judiciary’s institutional capacity for openness to alternative views, Ms Cameron mused. Not because, she advised, judges of any given race “will ‘represent’ a monolithic viewpoint, but because of the likelihood that judges of a particular race or ethnicity will be better positioned to understand and take seriously views held within their own racial or ethnic communities”. What more can be done There can and should also, Ms Cameron suggested, be changes to the ways that judicial appointments are made. “In Australia, judges in all courts across the legal system are chosen by governments. Given a range of factors, including unconscious bias, these majority of judges especially in the higher courts are white men,” she said. In the UK, however, the Judicial Appointments Commission is responsible for selecting candidates for judicial office, Ms Cameron pointed out. “The commission’s selection process is based on the premise that the judiciary should reflect the society it serves. It aims to attract diverse applicants from a wide field, working closely with a range of organisations to promote vacancies to all those who are eligible,” she said. Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Tass Liveris noted that – in its submission to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Judicial Impartiality Consultation Paper – LCA argued that ensuring transparency and promoting greater judicial diversity is an “essential part” of supporting judicial impartiality, as well as public and litigant confidence in the administration of justice and, particularly, in judges’ ability to make responsive and well-informed decisions. “Diversity in the judiciary has a clear flow-on effect for a person’s experience in a courtroom, and could be considered a necessary part of enjoying comprehensive access to justice,” he posited. LCA believes, Mr Liveris continued, that greater diversity in the judiciary through a meritorious appointment process will “assist public confidence and is an essential feature in ensuring a responsive and well-informed judiciary”. “Further, in the experience of the Law Council’s members, there may be advantages to a judge having direct knowledge of certain matters in a case, including cultural identities and backgrounds, provided these factors are balanced against potential bias issues,” he said. The Law Council’s Policy on the Process of Judicial Appointments, Mr Liveris said, recommends establishing a selection panel to advise the Commonwealth government on judicial appointments, as Ms Cameron argues for. “It proposes that the independent body or panel should give thorough and regular consideration as to how diversity can best be achieved in the judiciary while ensuring meritorious appointments,” he explained. “This may involve identification and consideration of the proportion of judicial officers belonging to a particular dominant social, cultural or other group, whether in a specific jurisdiction or nationwide.” An objective of the Law Council’s Strategic Plan 2021-2026, Mr Liveris said, is to support increased diversity and inclusion within the Australian legal profession to reflect the Australian community. Author’s note: The Society of African Australian Lawyers and the African Australian Legal Network were both contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of filing this story. ...

AWL President, Leah Marrone and Treasurer, Astrid Haben-Beer spoke about Equitable Briefing to Lawyers Weekly : https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/wig-chamber/33993-the-next-big-challenge-for-equitable-briefing Whilst more briefs are going to women barristers than before, there are still shortfalls – including and especially pay – that need to be addressed. As reported recently by Lawyers Weekly, a key target of the Law Council’s equitable briefing policy has finally been reached, with more than three in 10 briefs going to women barristers in FY20. This milestone follows years of advocacy on how all briefing entities can better determine whom they will engage and why, which was explored by Kate Eastman SC in a 2019 episode of The Lawyers Weekly Show. Reflections on hitting one target Responding to the findings, Adelaide-based barrister and Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) president Leah Marrone and Victorian Bar barrister and Melbourne-based treasurer Astrid Haban-Beer and AWL treasurer said that it is pleasing to see targets for briefing being met and exceeded, which bodes well for the future. However, they added, targets in relation to the proportion of fees are not yet being met, which is a “critical failing” of the profession. “Briefing women is one matter; what they are paid is another. Economic prosperity is crucial to whether women can have sustainable careers at the bar,”, the pair espoused. “We are also concerned that we aren’t actually getting the full picture – this data comes from those who have signed up and reported through the equitable briefing reporting mechanism. It’s a snapshot, but it is certainly not the whole profession.” Sydney-based barrister Talitha Fishburn agreed. Ms Fishburn – who spoke on The Corporate Counsel Show late last year about the need to better embed equitable briefing in-house and how best barristers can work with in-house teams to improve rates of equitable briefing – said that while reaching a target is encouraging, it must also be remembered that the adoptees of the policy are still relatively few in number. “As such, it is not time to sit back and become complacent. The results are not representative of briefing policies at large nor suggestive of proportion of fees paid to women barristers versus male barristers,” she said. What comes next? What is required at this juncture, Ms Fishburn posited, are ways to “capture data on the proportion of fees paid, as well as drive up wider awareness and adoption of the policy”. Ms Marrone and Ms Haban-Beer supported this, noting that when it comes to the value of briefs, “we are not there yet”. “We know that there are women briefed of the same seniority and experience as men, who are getting briefed at lower rates than their male counterparts for the same work. There’s no obvious reason why, apart from decades of entrenched gender pay inequity. We’ve often argued for more transparency in brief fees so both the market and the bar can calibrate fees accordingly,” they outlined. “There is also significant work to be done in ensuring women juniors have speaking roles, and I know there are a few people looking into this at the moment in term[s] of seeing the current statistics, but from work that has been done in the past, we have a long way to go there also.” When asked what more should law departments and other key stakeholders do to push parity forward, including and especially with regards to fees paid, Ms Fishburn said that in-house teams should be regularly reviewing their list of potential counsel. “At least twice a year, two new reader courses commence in NSW. So, lists of counsel should at a minimum be revised every six months,” she advised. Ms Marrone and Ms Haban-Beer added: “If they have not already signed up, please do, via the LCA website. Be transparent about fees that are paid for particular briefs, at each level of barrister seniority.” Looking ahead The equitable briefing policy, and its increasing adoption, is “proving to be a great encouragement to women thinking about joining the bar”, Ms Fishburn mused. This said, there is still a way to go. Each year, Ms Marrone and Ms Haban-Beer said, the profession gets closer to equal numbers of women sitting the bar readers’ courses in each state. This suggests, they surmised, “that we are on the way to closing the gap in terms of numbers. The next frontier is pay and hence retention of women at the bar, which is tied to professional success, which includes economic success”. The pair concluded by encouraging firms, solicitors and others “to consider more broadly who they brief not only based on gender but diversity of background and experience”. ...

AWL President Leah Marrone spoke to Lawyers Weekly for IWD:  : https://www.lawyersweekly.com.au/biglaw/33820-check-your-bias-constantly-the-changes-legal-workplaces-should-be-making On International Women’s Day, the Australian Women Lawyers president has called on the profession to take practical steps within their workplaces to address biases. On Tuesday, 8 March, and beyond, Australian Women Lawyers (AWL) president Leah Marrone said the profession should be taking “real and practical action to address systemic and unconscious biases” in their workplaces by working with female-led associations and implementing new policies that encourage inclusion. Ahead of International Women’s Day (IWD), Ms Marrone told Lawyers Weekly that in addition to opening up parental leave to men in firms, chambers and organisations and encouraging them to take that time, legal workplaces should spend the next year conducting pay audits and implementing pay transparency practices. “This is essential,” Ms Marrone said of removing secrecy around salary. “Without it, the culture of fear and silence prevails. It is a small but incredibly essential step, but it needs to be combined with pay audits, looking at these through a gender lens, and asking why people of equal skill and ability are not on equal pay or equal seniority.” To ensure that diversity and inclusion (D&I) promises made by workplaces are put in effect and making real change, Ms Marrone encouraged them to sign up for accountability measures. For example, The Women Lawyers of South Australia currently has a charter that firms are encouraged to sign onto, and the Law Council of Australia (LCA) has recently rolled out its equitable briefing policy. “They also need to realise that women are about 60 per cent of law graduates now, meaning a large part of the talent in particular is going to be looking for firms that have good records, clear policies and reporting on strategies around D&I. “If they want the best, they need to demonstrate performance on these outcomes. Having strong, public policies for flexible work, job sharing, parental leave and pay equity will all go towards attracting the best talent,” Ms Marrone encouraged. Expanding on flexible working, Ms Marrone said the “100-hour week” is no longer acceptable, and firms need to become more realistic about billable targets. This means workplaces should be “encouraging productive, efficient and high-quality work in other ways”, which has been demonstrated time and again by “people doing things differently, getting results for clients and creating a great workplace”. Speaking of policies, Ms Marrone added that the profession should be signing onto practical steps to address sexual harassment and bullying. AWL itself has put out a “Seven Strategies to Addressing Sexual Harassment” that is full of useful strategies. In addition to AWL’s resources, LCA has a national action plan, and many of the recommendations included in Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report are relevant. Ms Marrone, who has also co-authored an article with additional practical suggestions for legal workplaces, said she would “encourage people to read those too”. In response to what legal workplaces should be doing next to ensure equal opportunity for female lawyers, Ms Marrone said to “check your bias, constantly” and connect with experts who can guide them through the right steps. “Keep audits of pay and progression. Be equal in the distribution of work. Create various ways of networking that are not all after-work drinks – think lunch times, think outside of the alcohol-driven events of the past,” Ms Marrone commented. “If you are a woman leader, don’t close the door behind you, and don’t think, ‘I had to jump these hurdles, so should the next person’. Instead, remove the unnecessary hurdles and instead think, ‘what support would have helped me at that stage in my career’ and then fill that gap yourself. “AWL and our constituent bodies across the country are a great resource for firms and organisations wanting to make genuine change towards equity in this area. We have been in this space for decades, with WLNSW celebrating its 70th year and WLWA its 40th. We are here, come and talk to us, let’s work together for change.”...

AWL's Treasurer and Women Barristers Association of Victoria representative, Astrid Haban-Beer, recently spoke to the Australian Financial Review about the lack of women appointed to the bench in Victoria, and how this raises serious questions about the integrity of the judicial selection process. “You’ve got women who are leading major class actions and tax matters and cartel matters and royal commissions,” Ms Haban-Beer said. “There’s such an amazing range of talent at that senior level who are working on federal court cases … and are leading industry and practice groups, it just doesn’t make sense that’s not translating at the bench level. ”Who is advising the AG on the Victorian appointments? It must be someone who is familiar and connected and within. Why does that advice hold particular sway? Why does that person get through? “I don’t think they’re saying women aren’t good enough, they’re just saying ‘we like our buddies better’...

In late 2020, AWL President Leah Marrone spoke on Radio Italia about the allegations against the Attorney General, and the letter AWL wrote to the Prime Minister in 2020.  You can watch a snippet of that interview HERE. You can read more about the letter AWL wrote to the Prime Minister HERE....

AWL has today written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to register its concerns about recent allegations made against Attorney General, Christian Porter MP and Minister Alan Tudge MP on ABC's 4 Corners program. As Australia's peak body for women lawyer organisations, AWL and its members were alarmed to learn of the allegations against, Mr Porter, given his position as the First Law Officer of the Crown. The ABC 4 Corners investigation also infers that there is a broader pattern of behaviour by MPs, including the Attorney General, of abusing their positions and engaging in inappropriate workplace behaviour with staff. In circumstances where AWL has staunchly advocated against sexual harassment and discrimination in the legal profession, and in a year where we have already seen a plethora of allegations about sexual harassment from a former High Court Judge, it is incredibly disheartening to hear allegations that our Attorney General has modelled such behaviour throughout university, as a prosecutor and in his current office. AWL has also called on the Prime Minister to consider taking steps to consider a review of the relevant policy, conducting an independent culture review and should any allegations of sexism or inappropriate relationships be substantiated, that serious consideration is given to whether the Attorney General is an appropriate person to hold that office. You can read the entire letter HERE.  ...