FWO adopts Equitable Briefing Policy

20 February 2017

The FWO has recently signed up to a landmark new Equitable Briefing Policy external-icon.png launched by the Law Council of Australia. The policy is aimed at improving the briefing of women barristers across Australia.

The policy is intended to drive cultural change within the legal profession, support the progression and retention of female barristers and address the significant pay gap and underrepresentation of women in the superior courts.

The Policy includes interim and long term targets with the ultimate aim of briefing women in at least 30 per cent of all matters and paying 30 per cent of the value of all brief fees by 2020.

The FWO is already a leader in equitable briefing practices. For the first time in 2015-2016 the Agency allocated more than half - 64% of the Agencies briefs to females. In the three years previous the FWO allocated almost exactly an equal share of its external legal spends to female and male barristers.

“We are now consistently achieving gender equality in the number of briefs allocated as well as the value of the cases,” says Fair Work Ombudsman Chief Counsel Janine Webster.

Commonwealth agencies are bound by Legal Services Directions which encourage gender equity in the allocation of work.

Analysis by the NSW Bar Association acknowledges the approach the Fair Work Ombudsman has taken to equitable briefing.

“We actively seek out barristers of both genders to make themselves available to accept briefs from the Fair Work Ombudsman,” Ms Webster said. “We urge other agencies to follow our lead and actively monitor their performance in briefing equitably, taking remedial action where the figures don’t add up.”

Acknowledging that it took several years to be in a position to obtain the equitable briefing results, Ms Webster is encouraging all people or entities who select counsel to adopt the National Model Gender Equitable Briefing Policy.

“The Policy provides for targets of 20 per cent and 30 per cent of number of briefs or value being allocated to female Senior and Junior Counsel.  The voluntary reporting to the Law Society and or Bar Association will assist in creating a community of best practice to tackle the issue of inequitable briefing in Australia.” 

“The Fair Work Ombudsman aims to set an example to other employers both with internal practice and external briefing practice,” Ms Webster said.

“Traditionally many legal practices have put part-time or flexible working arrangements in the too hard basket when it comes to litigation work,” Ms Webster says. 

“Our organisation has put in place supportive and effective arrangements with about 20 per cent of lawyers on flexible working arrangements.  This has enabled us to create an engaged and talented practice.” 

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Correction: This release erroneously states that the Fair Work Ombudsman allocated more than half of its briefs to female barristers for the first time in 2015-16. The agency has been allocating more than half of its briefs to female barristers since 2013-14. Female barristers have received more than half of the agency’s external legal spend since 2014-15.