Profession pushes for advancement of women lawyers

A policy aimed at increasing opportunities for women in law is gaining traction among top firms – and major clients

Profession pushes for advancement of women lawyers
The legal profession is banding together to further advance women in the field.

The “Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy” initiative, spearheaded by the New Zealand Law Society (NZLS) and the New Zealand Bar Association (NZBA), aims to have at least 30% of court proceedings, arbitral proceedings, and major regulatory investigations led by women lawyers with relevant expertise by 1 December 2018. The policy has received the support of top firms, and some clients have also come on board.

Supporting law firms, barristers’ chambers, and lawyers – in order of adoption – are: Russell McVeagh, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, Buddle Findlay, Shortland Chambers, Crown Law Office, Bell Gully, Chapman Tripp, Simpson Grierson, DLA Piper New Zealand, Anderson Lloyd, and Kensington Swan.

Clients who have adopted the policy are: Westpac, Spark, Fonterra, Countdown, Stuff, Watercare, Meridian, Lion, Samsung, Auckland Airport, Chorus, ANZ, and Contact.

The policy is well-timed given the current state of gender equity in lead roles in the profession. As of 4 December, there were 13,006 lawyers based in New Zealand. Among these, 6,484 were women and 6,522 were men. Despite the virtually equal ratio, men far outnumber women in leadership posts.

There were 7,692 lawyers working in law firms with more than one lawyer. Of these, 3,834, or nearly 50%, were women. Among the 2,850 lawyers who were partners or directors of non-sole practitioner outfits, 870, or just 30.5%, were women.

There were also 1,372 barristers and Queen’s Counsel, according to data from the Law Society. Of these, 531, or 38.7%, were women. There were 123 practicing silk, and just 23 (18.7%) were women.

“It is time to put a stake in the ground,” said Kathryn Beckm NZLS president. “It is immensely encouraging that some of the major players in the provision of legal services and some leading corporate organisations are early adopters of the policy.”

“Women practising as barristers are often at a disadvantage in obtaining work because of attitudinal mindsets among law firms and clients. This policy is aimed at driving cultural change and giving greater opportunities to women,” said Kate Davenport QC, NZBA president-elect.

Russell McVeagh partners Sarah Keene, Polly Pope, and Sarah Armstrong played key roles in developing the policy. The initiative was launched and signed by the supporters at the firm’s Auckland and Wellington offices earlier this month.

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