Flexible Work Practices and Private Law Firm Culture: A Complex Quagmire for Australian Women Lawyers

  • Patricia Lynn Easteal University of Canberra
  • Anne Caligari Department of Defence
  • Lorana Bartels School of Law and Justice University of Canberra
  • Emma Fitch

Abstract

In this article, we examine gender and the work culture in Australian private law firms. Our primary focus is the extent to which flexible work practices remain a quagmire for female lawyers. We consider the systemic barriers affecting women lawyers, including hidden attitudes, the persistence of a gendered division of labour in the private sphere, the ongoing gender pay gap in Australia, and the ways in which the law firm ethos of long working hours disadvantages women. We then present some practical steps to remedy this situation, including accommodating working mothers’ time constraints, mentoring and networking, and training for managers and support staff. It is proposed that more needs to be done to encourage employers to implement these methods with confidence that flexible work arrangements can provide benefit to the firm as a whole, as well as individual employees. To achieve this, we put forward a reform of the framework in order to implement these practical steps. We also discuss some ways to possibly effect attitudinal change in law firm culture and conclude with some observations about the future of legal practice in this context. Finally, further involvement of the Law Council of Australia is proposed, to impose conditions on the practising certificates of lawyers in supervisory roles to assist them in complying with the framework. This would also ensure that flexible work arrangements are accessible to both employers and employees, which in turn will assist in dissolving the systematic discrimination that female lawyers face in private law firms.