Will the future legal world be gender-balanced?

Written by Kumara Mallikaaratchi on 7th March, 2019 ·

“The future is exciting. Let’s build a gender-balanced world. Everyone has a part to play – all the time, everywhere”, International Women’s Day 2019.

The question is whether the Australian legal industry is doing enough for its future?

Only 18 per cent make partnership at the top 10 UK law firms.

It was not surprising to read in Pitcher Partners’ ‘2019 Legal Firm Survey’ that while 64 per cent of graduates in law firms are female; only 16 per cent make up the equity partnership of law firms across the country. As seems to be the norm with the profession, the legal industry seems to have lagged behind and been traditionally slow in responding to the issue. Unfortunately, this is a global trend – women account for 60 per cent of newly qualified solicitors in England & Wales, yet only 18 per cent make partnership at the top 10 UK law firms.

This has evidently been a much-discussed issue, but do firms really understand the serious part they have to play? Speaking to the Financial Times (UK), Michal Berkner, a partner at US firm Cooley, based in London says importance lies with “having role models — actually promoting the women who do stay on, to partners, management and leadership roles”.

Many private practice firms have realised the advantage of adapting their external hiring policies to assist in improving their diversity. From personal experience, firms which have progressive inclusion and diversity policies have been more successful in attracting top talent – the emphasis placed on these policies is also generally a good indicator of a firm’s culture.

Increasing the representation of women in its partnership to 40 per cent by 2023

Top tiered firms have clearly seen the light. Two strong examples are Gilbert + Tobin and Clayton Utz.

Late last year Gilbert + Tobin announced new initiatives to further progress towards building a diverse and inclusive workforce. The firm has set the impressive target of increasing the representation of women in its partnership to 40 per cent by 2023. G+T have gone further by setting out how they intend to retain lawyers to achieve this aim, including: extending superannuation contributions to cover unpaid portions of parental leave, providing employees with a ‘work from home IT kit’ and supporting new parents through best-practice parental leave entitlements, flexible working options and return-to-work support.

Clayton Utz has been recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality (EOCGE) for 2018/19 by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). This is a result of their commitment to organisation-wide flexible work practices, tailored parental leave policies to support take up by both women and men, programs to increase women in leadership, initiatives to support women to return to work and robust analysis and correction of gender pay gaps.

Hopefully, these firms are setting a precedent for the rest of the Australian market and the wider legal world.