To mark International Women’s Day (March 8) a Newcastle and Hunter law firm has launched a new, free e-resource to help women navigate the legal system.
The team at Catherine Henry Lawyers has developed Women and the Law – A guide to help women navigate the legal system.
Principal, Catherine Henry said there isn’t a free resource currently available in the country that helps women understand the basics of the law as it applies to areas of their lives including such as family, money, work and health.
Catherine said it is important for progressive businesses to publicly make a commitment to gender equality and encourage others to adopt work practices that drive gender diversity.
“International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to promote these important objectives and celebrate the achievement of women in business,” Catherine said.
Catherine said women faced specific issues in relation to the law.
“Women make more complaints against health care providers than men but, sadly, their complaints are not always taken as seriously by health professionals,” Catherine said.
“When a woman has suffered an injury, the law has traditionally not always recognised the full impact of that injury on the woman’s life, focussing as it does on calculating loss in purely economic terms. This is particularly true in the case of injuries involving women’s sexual needs, in stark contrast to the seriousness with which such injuries sustained by men are regarded by the courts.
“We all have workplace rights that we need to protect, but women in the workplace often face challenges that do not confront their male colleagues, particularly on the issues of wage disparity and discrimination due to pregnancy and family responsibilities.
“The highest rate of increase in homelessness and poverty in Australia today is being experienced by women over 55 years of age. Knowing how to protect and maximise your assets is key for women to not being part of these statistics.”
She said that the e-book has been written by women lawyers and from a woman’s perspective. It’s her experience that many women prefer to consult women professionals because it’s more likely that a woman will understand another woman’s needs when dealing with a legal problem or issue.
“Our firm has a focus on supporting women clients and advancing women in the field of law,” Catherine said.
The firm is one of the first regionally based firms in Australia to formally sign up to the Law Council’s Equitable Briefing Policy which requires signatories to make all reasonable endeavours to brief or select women barristers. The policy aims to achieve 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.
Catherine said her firm had been informally applying the affirmative action policy for several years, briefing in local female barristers such as Belinda Epstein from Hunter Street Chambers. The firm will complete an annual report to the Law Council on its briefing practices.
It is one of several initiatives the firm has in place to try and level the playing field for women lawyers. All executive positions are filled by women and eight of the firm’s 10 lawyers are female. Of its 32 staff, 29 are women. By contrast, and although women are now entering the legal profession in slightly greater numbers than men, women lawyers occupy around 20 per cent of decision-making roles in legal firms.
Catherine Henry Lawyers has flexible work practices including being supportive of part time work for male and female staff members. Staff are able to work from home on a formal and informal basis. It provides work placements for local law students, particularly female students. It also supports the University of Newcastle’s Empower program. Catherine has established a local chapter of the Women Lawyers Association in Newcastle and is its current convenor.
“Ensuring women have the same professional development opportunities as men, particularly those women who may have had time away from their careers caring for young children, plays an important role in fostering gender equity,” Catherine said.
“We have made good progress but there is still a long way to go.”
IMAGE | Catherine Henry Lawyers has developed a free e-resource to help women navigate the legal system.