Aggressive Bar culture puts off female advocates

AN AGGRESSIVE, macho culture at the Bar is putting off female potential barristers from becoming appellate advocates, according to High Court judge Michael Kirby.

AN AGGRESSIVE, macho culture at the Bar is putting off female potential barristers from becoming appellate advocates, according to High Court judge Michael Kirby.

In a speech to lawyers in London, Justice Kirby said there was a prevailing culture of masculinity at the Bar in which barristers also had difficulty balancing their work with family responsibilities.

“It need not be so,” he said. “Some take the view that it is only a matter of time before women, who have only recently begun entering the profession in numbers equivalent to men, rise through the ranks by virtue of merit. But how much time is required?”

Despite it being 68 years since the first female appeared before the High Court of Australia, many are still talking about the need for women to just wait patiently for equal opportunity at the Bar, Kirby said.

“It is sometimes said in the medical profession that surgeons are the least likeable of the specialists – they are commonly regarded by their colleagues as more vain, less communicative and more macho in their attitudes,” he said.

“Are advocates the law’s surgeons? If so, is there anything that can be done to correct this feature of legal practice? Or do we just have to keep telling female advocates to steel themselves and be a little brutal back? It is a big ask.”

Justice Kirby said there was no single, easy solution that will ensure equal opportunities for women as advocates.

“Women bring a different perspective to the practice and content of the law. Inevitably it is reflective of their different life experiences.

“Given the importance of our legal systems to the development of a fair and just society, it is critical that the best and the brightest are encouraged to take up the profession of law.”

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