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Unequal Partners? Women in the legal profession.

August 5, 2010 9 comments

People ask me why I left the legal profession. Depending on how much time they have, one response is that the hours weren’t compatible with life, let alone a family life. I’d worked in the very smallest of law firms, to the very largest (and even tried the Public Service) and uniformly found, that commitment to the legal life was an all-or-nothing proposition. What’s more, there were grinding inequalities which came with the territory, but which we dared not speak of.

My generation of women–those who graduated during Keating’s “recession we had to have” of the early 1990s, were just so happy to have a job. Yes, we graduated with those purple and green stickers that declared “Women can do anything”, but to us, it seemed a silly statement of the obvious. Of course, we were only in that fortunate frame of mind because of the work of generations of women before us, who’d made equality an expectation, not an aspiration. However, the expectation was not only to be allowed into the profession (that happened well over 100 years ago, in Australia), but extended to equality of participation, including progress on merit. Management theories for years supposed that having increasing numbers of women in the profession would iron out any inequalities and change the profession. However, what would seem to be the case, is that women have taken on and adapted to the environment, rather than changed it. The end result is that lots of women go into the profession, and are churned back out, with broken hearts and ambitions unfulfilled.

This is not at all about man-bashing. I’m rather fond of men. I could do a Tony Abbott speech and say I even married one, and have several other men in my family. But on a serious note, there is a very specific and ingrained culture in the legal profession, that still treats women as second-best, and pays accordingly.

Some things which women lawyers have indicated to me over the years, in confidence, include, for example:
* In the 1990s, if a woman wore trousers instead of a skirt to court, a male judge might say “I cannot see you.” I made this mistake once, because as a (then) construction lawyer, who could be called out for site inspections, trouser suits seemed sensible.
* In the 1990s, if a woman wrote down “Ms” instead of “Miss” or “Mrs” on the appearance slip in court, a male judge might say, “I cannot hear you.” I made this mistake once, also.
* Blokes get to walk in front and not carry a thing. Women walk three steps behind, carrying the folders or pushing the trolleys to court. This is not just a seniority thing. A woman lawyer could do all the work on the file, but then when a corporate representative of the client was due to come to court to watch the progress of the matter, the woman would be told not to speak with the client, not to take any credit for work done, and to walk three steps behind all the men. The women doing all the work on the matter could also be overlooked for the celebrations afterward, so that the bloke who was being groomed for promotion, could step in and take all credit.
* Blokes in charge of junior female lawyers have been known to cross off time from their underling’s timesheets and transfer it to their own, to make budget and get that next promotion. Women couldn’t do much about it, for fear of being branded troublesome and losing their jobs. Where the pressure to make billable hours is so great, there are sometimes bad eggs to be found.
* There were so many female graduates in my time and subsequently, that we were seen as easily replaceable. (Too many new law schools opened up after I graduated, creating a glut). We were routinely told that we were less valuable than the secretaries, and that if we upset the secretaries for any reason, we’d be fired. Apparently, some secretaries had a devilishly good time with this.
* Women were mostly called upon to do the unbillable work in the firm, while blokes got the plum files.
* Part-time work after children was a no-go zone, even in some parts of the Public Service: “In or Out” was the mantra.

Dr Geraldine Neal has produced an exceptional and brave thesis about the state of gender equality in the Queensland legal profession. She graduated with a PhD in Law from Griffith University, last week–a big congratulations to her. Take a look:

Unequal Partners? Women in the legal profession thesis.

Graduate Careers Australia (GCA), has recently published research indicating that in 2009, the average entry level salary for male law graduates was A$53,000 whereas the female equivalent was A$48,600: an 8% difference. But why, for graduates with equal inexperience?

Across the board, female grads under 25 were paid 3% less than male, but the disparity was 8% for lawyers. Oddly, the situation seems to be worsening recently – in 2008, the gap for young lawyers was only 2%. The statistics include people who are not working in law firms, but remain in the legal industry, so it’s not just big, bad law firms: the industry itself is inequitable. (GCA material was sourced, with thanks, from RollOnFriday.)

This weekend (starting Friday), the Third Annual Australian Women Lawyers conference is on in Brisbane, with a fabulous line-up of speakers. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend it, as I’ll be out on the Australian ski fields, however, I do wish all participants well, and hope that gentle and deliberate progress is made … in the name of genuine equity.

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N.B.
1. The examples cited above are generic and do not relate to any specific instances, firms or judges. Practices which were common and accepted in the past are not necessarily so common or accepted now, but some of the underlying issues linger.
2. I remain passionate and positive about the law, equality and justice, even though I choose not to practice as a solicitor. I have no regrets about my experiences, no axe to grind and no David Jones-type claim to make. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and I’m proud of the achievements of all women. They all have the potential to make the world a better place for the next generation, including my own daughters (who show great aptitude for heated debate, at the tender ages of 6 and 9. I fear they may become litigators).
3. I have a PhD in Philosophy, undergoing examination. Wish me well.
4. My novel, about gutsy women lawyers, no less, is being lovingly (with loving, comes loathing) edited for a big publishing house. I wish it would edit itself. The publisher thinks the original working title of “Six Minutes” (in honour of the terrible timesheet) sounds too thriller-ish. I’m open to comments from the floor – should I change it to “Law Life”, “Every Six Minutes” or keep “Six Minutes” because it’s enough to make any lawyer’s blood flow backwards (for enough time to pick up the book and check out its contents…)? Wish me luck. It’s about time the Brisbane legal scene was written about.

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Sex, Drugs and Golf?

August 3, 2010 Leave a comment

I have a confession to make.

I’ve never understood the pull-power of golf. Now, thanks to Mark Gimenez’s latest legal thriller, I’ll be checking out at least 60 seconds of the next major tournament on the telly. Any more than 60 seconds will put me into a catatonic state, but curiosity has got the better of me, so I’m willing to risk it.

I’d always wondered how women like Tiger’s ex (which one?? I know, I know) could feign interest in watching blokes hit a ball across a paddock day in, day out, and now I know … money and lots of it. And where there’s money, there’s sex and lots of it. And then there’s the drugs – which I assume help with all kinds of faking interest, so to speak.

Apparently, according to this nifty little read, tv cameramen have to be careful to avoid crotch shots at all the tournaments because the golf groupies forget to wear undies, and specifically sit in ways that invite closer examination.

I’d thought that golf had strict dress standards (but maybe that’s just for the players). Imagine security asking the ladies on entry, “‘scuse me Mam, proof of knickers required …” But that’s why they’re called the 2-piece brigade – they only wear 2 pieces of clothing – a tiny top and a shorty-short, short skirt.

Enjoy Gimenez’s latest offering. Meanwhile, I’m off to find the sports channel.

Categories: Books, Life, Sex, Social Commentary

How to Survive Twilight: Eclipse

Here are my best tips for getting through the latest movie in the Twilight vampire saga.

1. Before booking tickets, bone up on the previous two films. The best way to do that is to watch these reviews.

2. Book Gold Class. Not only will this help the third movie catch up to the gross of the first two, but if you are of age, alcohol helps. Failing that, any kind of digestible distraction helps.
3. Go with the girls. This is a girls-only fantasy film. If a male accompanies you, he’ll be expecting a reward … and it won’t just be tickets to The Karate Kid or The A-team next time.
4. Take someone who has read the books. Not even they know what’s going on, but together, you’ll have fun trying to work it out.
5. Wear sneakers, runners, joggers or sandshoes. There is so much blurry vision of people sprinting, the only thing missing is the Nike or Adidas logo, so bring your own. In fact, all that running might motivate you to run home. Fast.
6. Decide whether you’re on Team Edward or Team Jacob before you go. Everyone else does, even if sappy emo-girl Bella takes 2 hours to make up her mind.
7. Beware: the scariest thing about the film is the cinema full of middle-aged women trying to decide if they’re on Team Edward or Team Jacob (remembering this is a teen movie).
8. Spoiler alert: all the ladies end up rooting for Edward, because let’s face it, what woman longs to be changed into (instead of from) a hairy werewolf (instead of an ageless, powerful, irresistible version of herself)?

Males who have been to the film universally comment as follows:
1. Where’s our eye-candy?
2. What sort of a jerk would be lead on by a girl like that?
3. As if.

Just remember, it’s a love story …

Categories: Books, Love, Movies