Charter for the Advancement of Women



On Monday 10 October 2016 the Law Society of NSW will launch its Charter for the Advancement of Women. I’m attending the launch and I support the Charter because it takes two further steps in the journey for true equality for half the profession. The first is the promotion and support of strategies to retain women in the profession over the course of their careers (whilst recognising that child-bearing may interrupt a career for many women). Secondly, the Charter is designed to encourage and promote a women’s career progression into senior executive and management positions.

The Law Society has had a long and, generally, proud (but not perfect) history of women in the profession[1]. Marie Byles was the first woman admitted as a solicitor. That was 1924[2]. By 1935 there were only 4 women solicitors. The War changed much, and so it was with women in the law. There were sufficient women lawyers in 1952 to form the Women’s Lawyers Association. In 1970 there were 180 women solicitors. By 1980 about 800 or 12% of the solicitor’s branch of the profession were women. By the end of the ‘80s about 23% were women. The trend has continued upwards.

The first woman, Ann Plotke, joined the Council of the Law Society in 1970[3]. Six years passed before there was a second woman on Council. That woman, Mahla Pearlman, became the Society’s first female President in late 1981[4]. She was one woman in a room of 19 male Councillors. Today, half the Council are women as is half the solicitor’s branch of the profession.

These have all been important advances, but unique issues remain for women practicing as solicitors. During my time on the Law Society Council, since late 2010, the Society has:

  • launched its Advancement of women in the profession This report particularly targeted women between 10 and 15 years after admission.
  • introduced a Women’s Mentoring program, which is especially aimed at newly admitted female solicitors.

More is needed. This is the reason why as a Councillor I supported the Charter, and as a practitioner for more than 30 years I welcome the improved position of women practicing as colleagues.

Darryl Browne[5]

[1] Much of the information about the Law Society’s history is found in the recently published history of the Society, Defending the Rights of All.

[2] Ada Evans was the first women to graduate with a law degree, in 1903, and the first woman admitted as a legal practitioner- in 1921 she was admitted to the Bar – but, it seems, she never practiced the profession of law.

[3] The first attempt had been made in 1951 by Meg Degotardi. There were other unsuccessful attempts over the next 20 years.

[4] In 1989 she became the first woman President of the Law Council of Australia.

[5] I’m a Councillor of the Law Society of NSW. I Chair of the Law Society’s Ethics Committee. I’m Deputy Chair of the Elder Law and Succession Committee. I’m a member of the Specialist Accreditation Board, the Futures Committee and the Nominations Committee, the Working Group on Future Prospects for Young Graduates and the Working Group on Elder Abuse. I’m also a member of the LCA’s Elder Law and Succession Committee and its Working Group on Elder Abuse. The views expressed in this article are my own.

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