Queenstown legal view of gender equality issues

by Michael Walker - May 02, 2018

Recently our firm decided to adopt the Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy (the policy) that was released by the New Zealand Law Society in conjunction with the New Zealand Bar Association in late 2017.  

The policy was a move to bridge the gender gap within the law, to ensure women are doing high profile work. The under-representation of women in key roles in the law is unfortunately not a new topic, but given women lawyers outnumber men clearly in the statistics (over 60% of law school graduates are now women), our firm believes there is a crucial need to have fair representation in key roles and on major cases.

Todd & Walker Law has 12 women out of a total staff of 15 and we thought the decision to commit to the policy was a simple one. We are already achieving the policy's purposes and aims in everyday practice, but we see it as important to show that we are an agile and modern firm that values the diversity our women staff present our clients and the community we practice in. We see it as vital we demonstrate this commitment both internally and externally to our staff, clients and the community.

What is the Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy? The policy focuses on making sure women are considered for all lead roles in court cases and in large commercial deals and transactions. The policy also encourages women to get great opportunities to develop their skills, for example, giving them substantive speaking roles in court cases.

The need is driven from the current position whereby women lawyers often get overlooked for lead roles in cases. This also creates an issue around retention and advancement of women within the legal profession. It has significant impact on young women lawyers entering the profession and this can lead to a loss of talent to the profession. The policy has a reporting obligation that the firm is required to make a biennial confidential report to the Law Society explaining the measures taken to achieve the targets set out in the policy.  To date, there are 16 firms across the country that have adopted the policy, two within Otago and Southland.

The policy works well for our firm as it fits within our culture and combines well with the succession model that we are operating and the trust we have in the women we work with. In the litigation side of the practice Louise Denton (associate) and Fran Hesp (senior solicitor) are routinely taking lead roles in criminal, civil and employment litigation. Pip Roberts, an associate in our commercial property team, is regularly running her own files and interacting with clients directly, as is Jess Weinberg, a senior solicitor in our corporate team. We like to think we empower all our staff (gender aside) to take ownership of files and client contact (in a supervised way) to ensure they take responsibility and ownership of their files and develop better decision making themselves. We actively promote flexible working arrangements and the tools to make it work for our staff.

The policy provides a tangible benchmark and commitment to making sure that women are getting high profile work. Our culture within the firm is to operate in a very transparent manner with all our staff, to make sure that we have honest and regular conversations about the future of the firm, as well as making sure the women in the firm are working on and involved in high profile work in their practice areas. This is important for a number of reasons but is centred around better serving our clients, both now and into the future as the firm continues to grow. We also work very hard on succession planning and both Graeme Todd and I are acutely aware there are many phases of succession planning and, as we grow, this will be an issue we have to manage constantly. We are now looking at the short, medium and longterm future regularly, to ensure we strive to provide excellent service to our clients not just now but for generations to come. A large part of that future succession planning is centred around our enormously valuable female staff and, to that end, we see it as important that we commit to adopting the Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy.   

 Michael Walker is a Principal at Todd & Walker Law in the litigation team. #    





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