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After more than two years of cancelled events, remote working and casual clothing, 300 distinguished guests and members of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW piled into the Sheraton’s Grand Ballroom to celebrate the association’s 70-year anniversary.

Women from all ages and areas of the profession, alongside a sprinkling of men, came together on Friday night for the long-awaited event; finally having the opportunity to connect in-person.

Governor of NSW Margaret Beazley was the keynote speaker, together with Patron of WLANSW, former Justice Virginia Bell

“How good is this?” Judge Bell opened her speech as the room erupted in cheer and applause. “We are all looking gorgeous and surprisingly sleek for people who’ve spent a year in hard lockdown.”

Judge Bell had the room in stitches as she made several stage appearances throughout the evening, being called on by WLANSW President Renee Bianchi to present different awards. “Patron is getting her steps up,” Bianchi joked.

Governor Beazley paid respects to the traditional Gadigal owners of the land on which the Gala Dinner was held, acknowledging Elders past present and emerging by speaking in the native language.

Beazley’s powerful address detailed the colourful history of the WLANSW. “It’s 10 past nine, the event doesn’t finish until 11. I could wound it up about quarter to 11 because it is such a fantastic history,” Beazley laughed.

The inaugural meeting of WLANSW was held on 6 March 1952 and was the first association of its type in Australia, with only four women in the group admitted to the Bar. Meetings began informally in 1941 to share knowledge, hear from guest speakers and discuss the issues of the time.

“If you think back in 1941, there were very few women in the law. Minimal opportunities for those women to share their knowledge and experiences with each other and to provide and receive the comradery, encouragement, collegiality that comes with interacting with one’s professional peers,” Beazley said.

“This is not a slam the boys’ night; this is a welcome of the boys’ night to our world. The men really do understand that collegiality because it has just been there since the commencement of the legal profession.”

Today, the association has a 9000-strong membership and is consulted by the NSW Government and the Courts on issues that particularly affect women and children. The WLANSW makes submissions and publishes reports about matters that “stubbornly remain issues” including discrimination, status of women in the legal profession, equal pay, domestic violence and gender equality.

“Why in 2022, are we still talking about these issues? But we are and we must. This is what the association has done and continues to do,” Beazley said.

“Management studies will tell you as soon as women become a critical mass of about 25 per cent in organisations, the view is that the women have taken over.

“You can take this one of two ways: that women are so fantastic things are going so well. But you get the sense: ‘We’ve done the women, we’ve got them, we don’t need anymore’. This is a critical figure that needs to be taken account of when work is being done on equal representation on all levels. Why are we still talking about pay equity? This strictly has to stop.”

President of the Law Society, Joanne van der Plaat and CEO Sonja Stewart attended the dinner.

The Law Society also sponsored the Corporate Counsel of the Year award, presented to Rachel Besley for her contribution to Deloitte. It was one of 12 awards originally announced in August 2021, but were not able to be celebrated in-person until now due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governor Beazley concluded her keynote address: “The Women’s Lawyers Association is the institutional story of the contribution that women lawyers have made to the legal profession and to the society which we as a profession have committed to serve”.

Main image: Life members of the Women Lawyers Association of New South Wales