The Law Society recognises that the lack of retention of women in the legal profession and the underrepresentation of women in senior legal roles are real issues for the profession, NZLS law reform and sections general manager Fazleen Ismail says.
"We made the subject of the retention and advancement of women lawyers a key focus for 2014/15 and we will continue to focus on this issue in 2015/16."
As part of her role as general manager, Ms Ismail oversees the Law Society's "Women in the Law" initiative.
Various initiatives over the years with the aim of supporting women lawyers and retaining their talents in the profession have included consultative groups, provision of information and statistical analysis as well as education and collegiality opportunities, she says.
Events showcasing pioneering women lawyers include:
- The annual tribute to a leading Wellington lawyer, Shirley Smith, in the form of the Shirley Smith lecture, which is organised by the NZLS Wellington branch Women in the Law committee, and was delivered this year by Dame Silvia Cartwright.
- The NZLS Southland branch hosts a Christine French annual lecture.
- The Otago Women Lawyers (OWLs) celebrates the first woman lawyer, Ethel Benjamin, with an annual lecture. Justice Helen Winkelmann delivered last year's lecture.
- Other events aimed at supporting women lawyers as well as providing training and information are held by women lawyer groups. These include regular Auckland and Wellington Women Lawyers' events and the recent Canterbury Women Lawyers conference which attracted leading women speakers.
"Many will comment that the issue has been around for a long time and ask what has been achieved. We have seen a steady increase in the number of women in the judiciary, but there is still some way to go given the numbers of women who have come into the profession. So what next? Recently our work has focused on raising awareness of the issues."
The Law Society has published articles and resources on the website, and a series of LawTalk articles aimed at encouraging applications from women in the QC round and to put themselves forward for other appointments as well as raising awareness of issues facing women in the law, Ms Ismail says.
NZLS CLE Ltd ran a successful full day conference in Auckland and Wellington in October 2014: Women, the law and the corner office, for example and the Law Society has been keeping abreast of developments overseas; for example through attendance at the May 2015 National Attrition and Re-engagement (NARs) meeting with Australian counterparts.
"But many of the problems facing women today, such the availability of part-time work or other flexible working arrangements, are the same as those that existed a decade ago. While the Law Society's recent work has focused on raising awareness of the issues, the next challenge is how we can encourage the profession to take greater action to retain and advance women."
The Law Society is setting up a Women's Advisory Panel to generate fresh ideas and consider new initiatives that will make a real difference and improve the retention and advancement of women in the legal profession, Ms Ismail says.
The Women's Advisory Panel will be chaired by the President of the Law Society, and panel members will shortly be announced.
The Board of the Law Society has asked the Women's Advisory Panel to consider issues and initiatives such as:
- embedding unconscious bias training in other training programmes;
- encouraging men in the legal profession to champion change;
- reducing the attrition of young female lawyers;
- gender audits; and
- equitable briefing policies.
The Panel will be looking at what initiatives have been tried in other areas and overseas and whether they would work for the legal profession in New Zealand.
Any new initiatives will sit alongside the Law Society's existing work to maintain our dedicated women in law webpage, as a forum that provides access to news, information, resources, events and organisations of interest to women lawyers and employers, Ms Ismail says.
"Building on the success of its first Women in Law conference in 2014, NZLS CLE Ltd will also be running a second conference: Women in Law – Career by Design. This full-day conference will run in Auckland on 11 April 2016 and Wellington on 12 April 2016. The conference will present a practical programme that helps women build upon their own personal strengths and resilience in order to be prepared, confident and pro-active in seeking leadership."
If you have any ideas, questions or comments that you think the Women's Advisory Panel should consider please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.