Past Presidents

2015 Lee-May Saw

2014 Natasha O’Halloran (nee Walls)

2013 – Margaret Holz

2011 & 2012 – Rebecca Barry

2009 & 2010 – Mary Snell

2007 & 2008 – Lee-May Saw

2005 & 2006 – Louise Byrne

2004 – Marilyn Bartole

After Ada, Women in Law

Judy Harrison, Convenor, National Women's Justice Coalition

'After Ada - a New Precedent for Women in Law' is the title of a report adopted by the NSW Law Society Council in September 2002. The paper critically evaluates the role and experience of women in the legal profession and provides an agenda for change.

Ada Evans was the first female law student to graduate in Australia. She graduated from Sydney University in 1902. However, women were not entitled to practice law in NSW until 1918. The first woman to enter the legal profession in Australia was Flos Grieg who was admitted as a barrister in Victoria in 1905. Marie Beuzeville Byles became the first female solicitor in NSW in 1924. In 1925 in Adelaide, Mary Kitson and Dorothy Sommerville established the first female legal partnership.

The 'After Ada' report found that while women are now graduating from law schools in equal or slightly greater numbers than men and while similar numbers of men and women are moving into legal practice, women are then leaving legal practice in far greater numbers. Female solicitors are not promoted at the same rate as their male colleagues, experience more harassment and discrimination, and receive low levels of remuneration. Additionally, women are under represented in senior positions in the profession i.e. in partnerships, as senior advocates and in the judiciary. The report notes that a study undertaken by Keys Young in 1995 identified adverse consequences of these trends for clients, women lawyers, the legal profession and in relation to the way law is practiced. Adverse consequences included: lack of diversity in the profession; loss of talent; lack of role models for women lawyers; few women mentors; lack of critical mass of women necessary to make it easier for women in the lower ranks of the profession to change the legal corporate culture; and, the structuring of law firms and legal practice in a way that suits men rather than women.

Agenda for Change

The strategies for change identified in the report are based on the concept of organisational ethics and the adoption of ethical workplace and employment practices.

The strategies endorsed by the NSW Law Society Council include:

  • promoting recognition of the problems by the profession and acceptance that the profession has a responsibility to address them,
  • the belief that time will fix the problem is a fallacy that the Council will aim to debunk,
  • promoting flexible transitions back to work after maternity leave,
  • encouraging recognition and support in the profession for mentoring programs,
  • targeted and tailored professional development programs,
  • more effective action on harassment and discrimination in the profession,
  • promoting awareness of the legal practice businesses of the cost of loosing solicitors,

Click here to view the full report: After Ada - a new precedent for women in law  This paper provides a detailed analysis of the experiences and expectations of female solicitors. It highlights the need for a crucial shift in corporate culture and management practice towards the ethical delivery of legal services. Such a shift involves consideration of lifestyle and work/life balance issues which affect the profession as a whole.