The Gender Equality Charter (Charter) includes a commitment to adopt equitable briefing and instruction practices.
In November 2022, that commitment was updated following a decision by the Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa and the New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture to incorporate the key principles of the Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy (GEEIP) into the Gender Equality Charter (Charter), with the GEEIP ceasing to exist as a separate document.
Adopting equitable briefing and instruction practices is about ensuring that women lawyers receive a fair allocation of work and lead roles in significant engagements and instructions. This extends beyond the instruction of leading women in contentious matters, to cover women lawyers at all levels, working on significant matters in all areas of the law.
The updated Charter commitment includes a new voluntary target for signatories of ensuring that women lawyers receive at least 50% of external instructions for all significant matters. This is intended to result in the increase of women lawyers at all levels having opportunities to be involved in high quality work. Without such opportunities throughout their careers, women may have greater difficulty in reaching the most senior positions. Once in those most senior positions, women need to maintain access to the top work, on an equal footing with their male counterparts. This commitment is intended to enable these aims to be achieved.
Lawyers who instruct or recommend external lawyers (including barristers, law firms and sole practitioners) can adopt gender equitable instruction practices by taking the following steps:
- When considering a significant new engagement or instruction, use best endeavours to identify (for example by obtaining or providing a list of candidates) women lawyers in the practice area that is relevant to the matter.
- Consider, specifically, including (or, where relevant, recommending) women lawyers at all levels in a legal team for a significant engagement or instruction; whether to lead a matter and/or at junior and intermediate levels.
- Consider specifically, engaging, instructing (or, where relevant, recommending) women barristers. Where a King’s Counsel or senior barrister is engaged (whether a man or a woman), consider similarly engaging, instructing or recommending women barristers to assist in the brief.
- Maintain a record of, and regularly monitor and review the level of engagement, instruction (or, where relevant, recommendation) of women lawyers.
- Include in the record and review information on any barriers encountered in the engagement, instruction or recommendation of women lawyers.
- Consider the adoption of a target of ensuring that women lawyers receive at least 50% of external instructions for all significant matters calculated as either: (a) 50% of all significant external instructions per year; or (b) 50% of the value of all fees paid for significant external instructions per year. The reporting requirement to the New Zealand Law Society will be to confirm whether or not signatories adopted the target and what percentage was achieved. As with all information gathered for reporting, individual signatories will not be identified without prior permission. What constitutes a “significant” matter will be different for each signatory, and signatories who adopt the target will be asked for details in the biennial survey. The intention is to ensure that women at all levels and in all practice areas are able to access high quality, career-enhancing work.
Lawyers who do not instruct external lawyers can adopt gender equitable briefing and instruction practices by taking the following steps:
- Use reasonable endeavours to ensure that there is gender equality in the assignment of significant internal pieces of work across all levels within a team.
- Provide, in the case of lead barristers, women juniors with opportunities to develop their skills and experience by giving them substantive speaking roles in hearings whenever it is practicable to do so.
- Regularly monitor and review the allocation of this work, to enable self-evaluation and to meet biennial Charter reporting requirements.