Ebborn Law's principal lawyer, Erin Ebborn, recently participated on a panel discussion entitled "Women in the legal profession", as part of UC's Gender and the Law class. The course provides an introduction to feminist legal theory and areas of law that raise gender issues.
Ebborn Law has been a leader in the profession, being an early signatory to the United Nations Women's Empowerment Principles. Over the life of the firm there has been a conscious effort to build a positive, inclusive culture.
Erin Ebborn says that, being primarily a family law specialist, a majority of her lawyers have been female. "For some reason it's hard to attract males to the practise of family law," she says, "Yet there are some excellent male family lawyers out there... I'm not sure where our future lawyers are forming their gender perceptions and I think it's important some thought goes into that. It's a real shame."
A concern Erin shares with many of her peers is the time it has taken the profession to start speaking publicly about the gender issues inherent in the sector. "Although over the past five years there has been a conscious effort by the New Zealand Law Society to address issues of equality and wellbeing, something I think the media has not given enough credit to in light of recent events."
"Change always takes time, sometimes it's generational, and we cannot expect attitudes to re-align immediately," says Erin. "However the profession has been put on notice: not only is there a growing move for change at the top, but up-and-coming lawyers and students are becoming more empowered. I strongly advise employers to pay close attention to the current discourse!"
One positive action law firms can take immediately is to commit to the Law Society's Gender Equality Charter.
The Charter is a set of commitments aimed at improving the retention and advancement of women lawyers. Charter signatories are asked to meet these commitments over a two-year period and report on progress to the Law Society.
'Push back' by senior partners and directors of law firms, reluctant to sign-up, is to be expected as the issues underlying the Charter are hurtful and raw, and nobody in the profession wants to believe that a Charter is necessary to ensure such basic human rights as equality and freedom from exploitation or sexual abuse.
Thus, we are on a journey to create a better profession for all - there is not an instant fix. But change must start somewhere, and signing the Gender Equality Charter is a fantastic way to begin!