FWO Steps Up Efforts to Improve Gender-Equity in the Legal Profession in Australia

March 2, 20178:58 am1897 views

The FWO has recently signed up to a landmark new Equitable Briefing Policy launched by the Law Council of Australia. This policy is aimed at improving the briefing of women barristers across Australia.

The policy is intended to drive cultural change within the legal profession, support the progression and retention of female barristers and address the significant pay gap and underrepresentation of women in the superior courts.

The policy includes interim and long term targets with the ultimate aim of briefing women in at least 30 percent of all matters and paying 30 percent of the value of all brief fees by 2020. The FWO is already a leader in equitable briefing practices. For the first time in 2015-2016, the agency allocated more than half – 64 percent of its briefs to females.

In the last three years, FWO allocated almost exactly an equal share of its external legal spends to female and male barristers. “We are now consistently achieving gender equality in the number of briefs allocated as well as the value of the cases,” says Fair Work Ombudsman Chief Counsel Janine Webster.

Commonwealth agencies are bound by Legal Services Directions, which encourage gender equity in the allocation of work. Analysis by the NSW Bar Association acknowledges the approach taken by the Fair Work Ombudsman towards equitable briefing.

“We actively seek out barristers of both genders to make themselves available to accept briefs from the Fair Work Ombudsman,” Ms Webster added. “We urge other agencies to follow our lead and actively monitor their performance in briefing equitably, taking remedial action where the figures don’t add up.”

See: Australian Employers Make Active Efforts to Close the Gender Pay Gap

Acknowledging that it took several years to be in a position to obtain the equitable briefing results, Ms Webster is encouraging all people or entities who select counsel to adopt the National Model Gender Equitable Briefing Policy.

“The policy provides for targets of 20 percent and 30 percent of number of briefs or value being allocated to female Senior and Junior Counsel.  The voluntary reporting to the Law Society and or Bar Association will assist in creating a community of best practice to tackle the issue of inequitable briefing in Australia.”

“The Fair Work Ombudsman aims to set an example to other employers both with internal practice and external briefing practice,” Ms Webster added. “Traditionally many legal practices have put part-time or flexible working arrangements in the too hard basket when it comes to litigation work.”

“Our organisation has put in place supportive and effective arrangements with about 20 percent of lawyers on flexible working arrangements. This has enabled us to create an engaged and talented practice.”

Also read: Skills in Demand in Australia for 2017

Image credit: diversitytoday.co.uk

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