"Dear Legal Profession: I stole your women"
That was the auspicious title of an article QLS Ethics Solicitor Shane Budden posted on our LawTalk blog back in 2017 (you can read it here if you are interested). The thrust of the article was that in the absence of a path to partnership for talented female lawyers, they were finding other—and better—options outside the traditional law firm model, especially in government and in-house.
Well, it turns out Shane is quite the prophet. The Urbis 2018 National Profile of Solicitors was released in May. One of the stand-out figures for me is that the in-house and government sectors continue to grow at a rapid rate, both by 61% from 2011 to 2018 and that those sectors were trending heavily towards female lawyers. In the corporate and government sectors, females represent 59% and 66% of lawyers respectively, which seems to back up the suggestion that women are abandoning private practice (which remains 53% male).
That is a concern for the profession because of another number: the fact that 52% of the country’s solicitors are female. This means our profession is failing to provide career paths for more than half the profession, so they are looking elsewhere and liking it.
We can watch with pride as female lawyers rise through the ranks of the corporate and government worlds, but we also need to wake up. We cannot sustain that loss of talent over any length of time. If we are to have the best of the best in our profession we need to find a way to stop leaking female talent to other industries; thinking caps on people, the clock is ticking!
Looking forward, we have another big and exciting week ahead, starting with the second anniversary of the launch of the QLS Reconciliation Action Plan. It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since that momentous night. The planning actually all started in 2016, when we sat down with Shane Duffy, Linda Ryle and a group of passionate people to set our profession on the path to reconciliation—it was exciting but also confronting.
Shane and Linda made it quite clear that they wouldn’t sign off on a box-ticking exercise, and that we needed to be on a path to take real action and make actual progress. We sat down, got a great group of people on the RAP working group, rolled up our sleeves and got to work.
Thankfully, we got there and the RAP was launched on 5 July 2017 by then-President Christine Smyth. I am happy to say we got it all on film and you can check it out here. It is worth a look and includes a couple of cracking speeches by Linda Ryle and former President Smyth.
We are also coming up to NAIDOC week. As usual QLS will have a stall at the Family Fun Day at Musgrave Park on 12 July. Come along and experience First Nations culture, cuisine and camaraderie, and all the while you will be helping to guide us to a united future.
Finally, I should mention that on 26 June I had the privilege to welcome three new magistrates to the bench, magistrates Hartigan, Saggers and Fowler. It was a full house at court 17 in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, with a great many of the profession watching on by video link at various courthouses around the state.
It was very pleasing to see the profession turn out to these events, evidencing the respect we have for those on the bench. Not just members of the profession either; family members were also in attendance to witness and share in the achievement.
That is worth noting, because universally when I attend a swearing-in or a valedictory, those being honoured speak evocatively and gratefully of the loved ones who supported them in their careers. Those who made their successes possible; of the sacrifices loved ones made, and the succour they provided at the end of long hard days when everything went wrong.
Anyone in our profession will be able to think of similar people in their own lives—parents, siblings, friends, mentors—who have made things easier for us, and made our successes possible. Those being sworn in set a good example here, and it is a good reminder to us all to make sure we take the time to tell those special people how much we appreciate what they do, to allow us to do what we do.
Until next time, here is a final thought to keep you going: only 175 days until Christmas!
Bill Potts, QLS President