Equitable Briefing Initiative – Achieving equitable representation of Victorian women barristers in commercial litigation

A joint initiative of Commercial Bar Association of Victoria (CommBar), members of the Judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

The overarching objective of this initiative is to increase briefing of women at all seniority levels of the CommBar (and beyond), by engaging with the lawyers who brief the CommBar and working with these organisations to commit to real change. This is an action-focused initiative and as such, progress will be both measured and reported. (note: no firm’s/ organisation’s individual progress will be publically identified).

The Charter of Commitment

Leading law firms and organisations have signed up to a three year Charter of Commitment (2016–2019), in a collective attempt to achieve gender equitable briefing practices in commercial litigation.

The Charter has six key actions. These actions aim to address some of the key barriers to achieving gender equitable briefing practices that firms and organisation have identified in previous workshops.

The founding and current signatories to the Charter of Commitment include:

  • Arnold Bloch Leibler
  • Australian Securities & Investments Commission
  • Corrs Chambers Westgarth
  • Gilbert & Tobin
  • K & L Gates
  • Lander & Rogers
  • Maddocks
  • Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Slater and Gordon
  • Telstra
  • Victorian Government Solicitors Office
  • Thomson Geer
  • DLA Piper Australia

It is anticipated that as more firms and organisations become aware of the initiative, that additional signatories will sign up to the Charter of Commitment. The initiative remains open to additional signatories.

Download the Charter of Commitment - Law Firms (PDF, 450KB)

Download the Charter of Commitment - In house Counsel (PDF, 445KB)

For further information about the initiative, download the Public statement of the Equitable Briefing Initiative (PDF, 470KB)

Data Collection/Reporting Stage

Following a period of successful collaborations between the Commercial Bar of Victoria, members of the Judiciary, Charter of Commitment Signatories and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (Commission), the data collection/reporting stage is now underway. The Charter of Commitment contains a number of actions to be undertaken over a three year period, including collecting and reporting briefing data on a confidential basis every six months. A excel data entry sheet has been developed following consultation and testing with Charter Signatories and is currently in use. The Commission will be reporting on the first data set (Jan-June) in Sept-Oct, 2016.

Potential Actions for Implementation

In late 2014 the Commercial Bar, members of the Judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission held private workshops that were attended by members of the Judiciary, senior law firm commercial litigation council and in-house counsel who regularly brief the Commercial Bar.

A list of potential actions for implementation were identified by workshop participants, matched against the Charter of Commitment for law firms.

The Organising Committee

The initiative has greatly benefitted from the extensive experience and commitment of the organising committee. The committee comprises of Justice Debbie Mortimer, Justice Elizabeth Hollingworth, Commissioner Kate Jenkins, Philip Crutchfield QC, Kathleen Foley and Anna Robertson from CommBar.

Background to the initiative

In 2014, the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria (CommBar) considered what action it might take in relation to the equity issues facing women barristers in commercial litigation, with particular focus on concerns about the lower rates of briefing women barristers and the lower value of briefs for women at the Commercial Bar.

Members of the CommBar executive, the judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission worked together to support action on these two areas of underrepresentation of women barristers.

In addition to the support of the organising committee, the initiative has greatly benefitted from ongoing involvement and support from the judiciary, including from:

The High Court of Australia
The Hon. Susan Crennan AC (formerly Justice Crennan)
Justice Michelle Gordon

The Federal Court of Australia
Justice Bernard Murphy
Justice Jennifer Davies

Supreme Court of Victoria
Chief Justice Marilyn Warren
President Chris Maxwell
Justice Anne Ferguson
Justice Peter Almond
Justice James Elliott

County Court of Victoria
Judge Maree Kennedy

Federal Court of Australia
Chief Justice James Allsop.

The workshops

Two workshops have been convened to progress this initiative.

CommBar Workshop 1- Identifying the problems
On 7 November 2014, a workshop was convened between 11 members of the Judiciary (High Court, Supreme Court, Federal Court and County Court) 28 law firm commercial litigation partners; and eight inhouse counsel across private and public sector organisations.

The purpose of the session was to collectively start a conversation about the alarmingly low representation of women in Commercial law matters and identify what could be done to accelerate change by getting perspectives from outside the Bar.

The workshop identified four areas where action could be taken to support real change. These areas included

  • awareness
  • briefing practices
  • individual leadership and
  • firm/organisational accountability.

If you would like to convene an internal workshop within your firm/organisation the Faciliators Guide (PDF, 505KB) may be of assistance to you.

CommBar Workshop 2: Uncovering high impact actions
On 20 May 2015, a second workshop was convened to identify high impact actions that could produce a significant change over three to five years.

The Charter of Commitment was formulated based on the discussions and ideas for action expressed at these workshops.


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