It is 101 years since Australian women won the right to practise law in NSW, with the passing of the Women's Legal Status Act 1918 (NSW). However, barriers to gender equality still remain.
It is commonly acknowledged that the legal industry is one of tradition, stayed and wedded to the practices of years gone past. More recently we have heard about the wave of “New Law” and the innovation that is going to revolutionise the legal industry. Sounds interesting and exciting. But what makes up an industry?
Practices, precedents, technology, legislation, yes. But more important are its people.
The defence of the law and the application of justice is still run by mostly people. In fact, according to a report conducted by Urbis for the Law Society of NSW in 2016, the legal industry is predominantly staffed by women. Women made up more than 50 per cent of registered lawyers in Australia in 2017. This was a major milestone for Women in Law.
But this milestone is bittersweet. While 64 percent of law graduates are female, this figure drops drastically at partner level with women only making up 16 percent of equity partners. This dramatic difference begs the question: why? Why are women struggling to make it to the top in an industry in which they have fought so hard to forge a place of their own?