5 Dec 2017

Lawyers set 'achievable' gender balance target

7:19 pm on 5 December 2017

Some of the country's largest law firms and their clients are committing to having women take the lead role on at least 30 percent of their major litigation cases.

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Photo: 123rf

Half of all New Zealand lawyers are women, but they are woefully under-represented among senior positions.

Less than 40 percent of barristers are women. At law firms with more than one lawyer less than a third of partners and directors are women, and among Queen's Counsels the rate drops to one in five.

To combat this inequality, the Law Society and the Bar Association have drawn up the new policy, taking effect by December 2018, to have more female lawyers take the lead.

Some of the country's largest law firms including Russell McVeagh, Simpson Grierson, Buddle Findlay, Chapman Tripp and Bell Gully have signed on.

While they will not be sanctioned for failing to live up to the pledge, they will have to submit reports on their progress to the Law Society twice a year, which will monitor their progress.

At least 13 of the firms' biggest clients - including Spark, Westpac, Fonterra, Countdown, Stuff, Samsung, and Auckland Airport - also signing on, providing what the Society and Bar Association hope will make the real difference.

Law Society president Kathryn Beck said client participation was a game-changer.

"These clients are saying 'we want things to change, and we expect you to help us change it'. And when clients send that message, good lawyers will listen."

Bar Association president-elect Kate Davenport said while 30 percent might seem like a low target, it was realistic.

"Ideally it would be women were 50 percent, but in terms of a target this is an achievable target. Once this is achieved, then the target can be increased. It's a matter of not making too much of a change too fast."

Policy will be officially launched tonight at Russell McVeagh offices in Auckland and Wellington.

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