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Women lawyers’ working woes


Cite as: (2009) 83(02) LIJ, p.14

Eight years ago Jennifer Kanis was teaching Year 12 students English. This year, the newly appointed Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) convenor plans to teach law firms how to better manage flexible working arrangements.

She also wants the VWL to help identify problems with maternity leave, and investigate why many women leave the profession and why the majority of law firm partners are still men.

“A lot of female lawyers still tell us they want flexibility issues better managed and that there is more their firms can do. The VWL finds most firms are trying a lot of things and that the issue is high on their agenda. However, while firms are doing some things well they can do other things better,” she said.

“Many women lawyers say they have to constantly think about how to manage work and family responsibilities.”

Ms Kanis said while firms had introduced flexibility arrangements, such as job sharing or working from home, the inherent problem was that more needed to be done to make the arrangements work.

“Feedback [to VWL] is that a lot of law firms have good policies, but the implementation at partner or practice group level can be hit or miss,” she said.

Ms Kanis said a major “blocker” to work flexibility was the issue of billable hours.

She also said the vast majority of employers failed to keep those on maternity leave updated on work-related issues.

After settling on law as a second career, Ms Kanis graduated in law from La Trobe University in 2004. She has worked at Holding Redlich since 2005, where she specialises in employment and industrial relations law.

Now in her third year as a solicitor, she has no regrets about changing careers and said a priority of her tenure would be to conduct research into the reasons for attrition.

“There are a lot of women leaving the profession and we want to find out why.

“Anecdotally, we hear that they cannot care for a family and be a lawyer but we also hear that some are not getting enough opportunity,” she said.

“The statistics show women are still not getting to the top and that the overwhelming majority of partners are men. More than half of law graduates are now women but we are still not seeing that flow through to the higher positions.”

She said the restlessness of Generation Y and the ease of moving to other careers as “law is a great backgrounding discipline for a range of things” were other factors.

Ms Kanis said the VWL would increase its presence in regional and suburban areas and seek national discussion on the key issues affecting women in the law.

On the VWL, Ms Kanis said she was impressed that so many busy professionals volunteered “so much time and energy for a common cause”.

For more information on the VWL, see


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