Women lawyers concerned over low level of law briefs for female silks

WOMEN lawyers are concerned that only 26pc of barristers briefed by federal government agencies in the past financial year were female.

The figure represents a 1.3 per cent decrease from last year, but is still higher than the overall proportional representation of women at the bar.

According to the government’s latest Legal Services Expenditure Report, 736 of a total of 2821 commonwealth briefs went to female barristers during 2009-10.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said equal opportunity briefing practices had helped ensure briefs going to women were in greater proportion to the representation of women at the bar, which is 19 per cent.

But Rebecca Barry, president of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, said members of the legal profession should not be too quick to celebrate the report.

Women received 24 per cent of fees rendered in total commonwealth expenditure on barristers but the number of women briefed during the past financial year was less than last year’s total of 27.4 per cent.

“It is not good enough to rest on our laurels simply because women received 24 per cent of fees rendered in commonwealth expenditure on counsel, a proportionately greater percentage than the 19 per cent figure for women at the bar federally,” Ms Barry said.

“More needs to be done to ensure that the figures and percentages increase with every report that is released.”

The number of women who graduate from law school has been equal to, or greater than, the number of male graduates for more than two decades.

“Many have expected that it is inevitable that the statistics in relation to women will improve over time,” Ms Barry said.

“It is highly concerning that an overall increase in total spend on legal services federally has not come hand in hand with an improvement in the figures for briefs going to women.”

Overall, the total legal services expenditure of commonwealth agencies was $571.9 million — an increase of 2.9 per cent from 2008-09.

Originally published on the www.theaustralian.com.au

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