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According to merit?/Diversity: Towards equality

Every Issue

Cite as: October 2015 89 (10) LIJ, p.80

A law student mentoring program aims to give women a taste of the realities of legal practice.

Although there are more women than men admitted to the legal profession, a gender imbalance soon emerges. There’s an incremental decline in women’s representation as they approach the senior ranks. Driving the 50 per cent attrition rate of female practitioners within five years of commencing practice1 is anachronistic legal practice and a paucity of active support in making flexibility work. The reality experienced behind the statistics is one of the reasons Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) exists and remains relevant to women practitioners and the legal profession more broadly.

Heading towards its 20th year, VWL seeks to combat attrition among women lawyers and to improve their representation in senior positions and advocacy roles. VWL prides itself on supporting women in progressing from admission to seniority, encouraging them to remain in private practice or to become barristers, to achieve a satisfying professional life – whatever their particular definition of success might be.

VWL works to achieve those aims through targeted projects, such as the annual law student mentoring program, in conjunction with the Women Barristers’ Association (WBA), and VWL’s latest initiative for women lawyers, the Warren Moot.

The law student mentoring program seeks to expose female law students to the realities of legal practice, and at the same time raise awareness of gender issues. It does this by pairing women law students and women lawyers. The program gives students valuable foundational knowledge about what legal practice entails, and aims to provide students with a support network that will be available to them when they launch and progress their legal careers.

In recent years participation in the VWL and WBA law student mentoring program has become increasingly sought after by law students. With the number of would-be mentees rising dramatically this year, mentors are in high demand and program coordinator Elizabeth Aitken encourages women lawyers to put themselves forward as mentors.

The Warren Moot, endorsed by Chief Justice Marilyn Warren and sponsored by Maddocks, encourages women lawyers to develop their public speaking and advocacy skills by participating in a team mooting competition adjudicated by members of the judiciary and the Victorian Bar. In early rounds participants receive constructive feedback aimed at helping them to advance to the final round, held in the Supreme Court of Victoria. Getting involved in the Warren Moot is an opportunity for women lawyers to take a step towards developing core skills in a supportive environment.

In 2015 VWL and its work to increase opportunities for women’s advancement in the legal profession is more relevant than ever.

Jessica Awad is a member of the Victorian Women Lawyers communications committee. 1. Michael Holcroft, “Why are we losing some of our best and brightest women in the law?” (2012) 86 (3) LIJ.

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