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Law Society launches Gender Equality Charter for the legal profession

12 April 2018

The New Zealand Law Society’s Gender Equality Charter was launched today at Parliament.

The event was hosted by the Minister for Women, Julie-Anne Genter in the Grand Hall.

The charter is the Law Society’s response to a common criticism of the legal profession;

“Why are women in law so far behind men in holding positions of seniority?

The charter, developed by the Law Society’s Women’s Advisory Panel, is a set of commitments aimed at improving the retention and advancement of women lawyers. Charter signatories are asked to meet these commitments over a two-year period and report on progress to the Law Society.

Commitments include:

  • Implement unconscious bias training for all lawyers and key staff
  • Conduct annual gender pay audits and take action to close any gender pay gap
  • Encourage and support flexible working for all lawyers
  • Actively work to increase gender equality and inclusion in senior legal roles

Guidelines to help charter signatories are also available, along with free online tools and resources on the Law Society’s website.

Ahead of the launch of the charter, New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck and former President Chris Moore held a candid but frank discussion about why legal workplaces should sign up to the charter.

Women now make up over 50% of the profession and while Ms Beck views that as a pleasing development, women are nowhere near that figure when it comes to holding positions of seniority.

Currently women make up just 31% of partners and directors in law firms with more than one practitioner. Of Queen’s Counsel appointments since 1907, 273 have been men of whom 100 are still in practice. That’s in comparison to 34 who are women of whom 23 are still in practice.

“Women accounting for half of those practising law is something we’ve waited for over some time but women are still not properly represented in leadership roles such as in law firm partnership, directorship, Queen’s Counsel. Women are leaving the profession because of the lack of recognition. We have the talent pipeline but it’s leaking,” Kathryn Beck says.

As Chris Moore who is the chair of the Women’s Advisory Panel explains, the profession needs to represent the society it serves.

“At the moment we are just not doing that and it is to the detriment of the profession,” he says.

Kathryn Beck is a partner at SBM Legal and Chris Moore is a partner at Greenwood Roche. Both are Auckland based law firms.

The charter is more than about just doing the right thing

“There is actually a real commercial imperative. You don’t have to look too far to find evidence that getting the right balance will benefit the bottom line. That’s why I think the Law Society’s Gender Equality Charter will make a real difference in retaining women in the legal profession by providing better opportunities for advancement,” Ms Beck says.

Chris Moore agrees.

“I think the charter is about improving the overall culture of the legal profession,” he says.

The charter isn’t designed to just influence specific areas of the profession such as large law firms. It has potential for a much wider reach.

“Whether you’re a barrister, barrister’s chambers, sole practitioner, in-house legal team everybody will be able to sign up to it and commit to meaningful change,” Ms Beck says.

Mr Moore says the charter strategically focuses on specific areas such as unconscious bias training, gender pay audits and encourages flexible working conditions for all lawyers.

“And I mean mainstreaming flexible work, not just for the principal caregivers but everyone in the profession so that everyone is on an equal footing,” he says.

The charter seeks to protect the future of the profession by ensuring it is attractive for all graduating law students.

“If you were a young man or women who has just graduated from law school, would you want to go and work in a firm that is committed to flexibility and diversity or would you want to work for an old fashioned firm that’s still doing things the way they did 30 years ago,” Ms Beck says.

And as Chris Moore points out, the charter should not be seen as a burden for workplaces.

“You’ve got two years to implement the voluntary commitments. We’d expect progress reports during that time. But remember it’s up to you to decide how best to implement the commitments at your workplace.

Why wouldn’t you do this? This is about testing your own behaviour and making sure you are taking steps to ensure you are being fair in the workplace,” He says.

Kathryn Beck says her firm will be signing up to the charter.

“Yes, I’ll be speaking with my partners and we’ll be looking at how the charter will benefit our firm in the long term,” she says.

To sign up to the charter simply email womeninlaw@lawsociety.org.nz with the subject line: sign me up.

Last updated on the 12th April 2018