19 November 2012

WA Bar Demographics

'A Cultural Challenge for the Western Australian Legal Profession: A Lack of Diversity at the WA Bar?' by Jill Howieson and Tomas Fitzgerald in 36(1) University of Western Australia Law Review (2012) reports that
 At the request of the Western Australian Bar Association, the authors undertook a study into issues of diversity at the Western Australian Bar. Members of the Association had noticed, but not specifically studied, various demographic imbalances in the Bar’s constitution. A review of the literature revealed that there was a paucity of statistical analysis of the makeup of Australian barrister associations generally, let alone into any specific reasons as to how and why a demographic imbalance might exist. Recognizing that a clearer picture of the breakdown of the demographics of the Western Australian legal profession and of the specific cultures that might exist at the Bar was needed, the authors undertook a study that examined whether there was an existing legal monoculture at the Bar, and if so what some of the reasons for this might be. The authors conjectured that being ignorant as to how to become a barrister and having a sense of isolation from the legal profession generally, might be reasons for the cultural imbalance (if it indeed existed) and then set about to investigate this empirically. The results revealed that there might be hidden barriers that work to inhibit a broad range of legal professionals from progressing to the Bar. In particular, a knowledge of how to become a barrister, how legal professionals and students feel that they ‘fit in’ to the local legal culture and the various myths that exist about life at the Bar might be inhibiting the progress of a diverse demographic of people from joining the Bar. This article explores the research findings and makes the call for a dedicated research agenda to confirm the study results and to investigate how Australia might best prepare to achieve a diverse and balanced Bar, Bench and legal profession.