Since Woopi News is celebrating women this month for International Women’s Day, I thought I might do something a little different for my “legal” article this month. I work in a profession that was traditionally a male dominated industry but Australia has come a long way since then and I want to inspire more women, of all ages, to consider a career in the legal industry.
The first woman to graduate University with a law degree in Australia was Ada Evans who graduated from the University of Sydney in 1902. Unfortunately, due to attitudes at the time, Ada Evans, was not actually able to use her degree and did not practice law until 1918. It took Parliament a few more years to pass legislation to allow women to practice the law in Australia and it was a Victorian solicitor, Flos Grieg, who became the first female solicitor to practice in 1905.
Since then, women have flooded the profession, but for a long period they were often channelled into specific areas of the industry considered to be more female friendly such as family law. Attitudes have now changed, and today you are just as likely to see a female solicitor dealing with million-dollar commercial mergers and acquisitions, or a female criminal barrister in a high-profile murder trial, or even a female Chief Justice of the High Court, as a male counterpart in the same role. A report published by the Law Society of NSW in July 2019 indicated that female solicitors now outnumber their male counterparts at both a state and national level, except for WA where the gender balance of solicitors was about equal. I might be showing my age here, but this is a substantial improvement from when I was in university and the law building lecture halls were predominately filled with male classmates.
Why did I choose a career in the legal profession? Because of a woman who to this day probably does not even know how much she influenced and inspired me. As a child I wanted to be a doctor (or maybe a princess!). As a teenager that changed to wanting to pursue a career in forensic science. So it made sense to choose legal studies when I was given the choice of legal studies, history or geography in Year 11. It turned out to be one of those moments in life that made me completely change direction. My legal studies teacher was incredible, she made even the driest case law sound interesting and relevant by using examples appropriate to my age group and often had students act out scenarios in class to demonstrate the issues raised in cases we were studying. She engaged the class in heated discussions and debates about legal theories and the impacts of law on society and went above and beyond to keep her students interested. I enjoyed her class so much that I enrolled in a Bachelor of Laws at University and have had absolutely no regrets.
There have been a lot of other inspirational women I have come across in the legal industry in my 10 + years as a solicitor. As a law student I worked as a court officer with a female District Court Judge who taught me to consider cases from both sides before making a decision. I worked with a female client who was so inspired by her own medical negligence case that she went on to study law as a mature age student and become a solicitor herself in her 50’s. I have worked with female victims of crime who refuse to be victims despite what they have been through and work hard to get their life back on track. I am inspired every day by my client’s stories and the legal challenges they face. I have also worked with some amazing women behind the scenes who have helped me get to where I am now and often don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Is life as a female solicitor easy? I’m not going to lie and say that it is. It is always going to be a challenge to balance a career which requires a lot of long hours, hard work, concentration, and dedication against wanting to have a family and spend time at home with children, but that is the same with any profession. And yes, there are still plenty of people out there that do not want to work with a female solicitor for whatever reason, but I see that as their loss not mine. Do I like being a solicitor? Yes! I love what I do despite the challenges and would not have it any other way.
So while it’s not my usual type of “legal” advice, my advice to all the women out there thinking about a career in the legal profession is: work hard and make it happen, there is no limit to what you could achieve.
KC Hilton, WNB Legal.