The Notre Dame Social Justice Society’s President (and NDSLS’s resident IT expert), Jemima Barlow, shared with me her tips and advice for aspiring Lawyers.
A Report by the Law Society of New South Wales released in July 2021 announced that women make up 53% of the 83,643 solicitors practicing in Australia (and for the first time, female lawyers outnumbered male lawyers in every State and Territory). However, now is not the time to be complacent (in other countries it is still rare for women to practice as lawyers!). But even in our own backyard women still experience unfairness regarding the way they are hired, treated, paid and regarded.
Advocate for Yourself & Others
If you notice your friends, peers or colleagues making discriminative or sexist remarks, call it out! Chances are, if you think something is not okay, others around you are likely to feel the same way. Set the tone from the get go, and as Michelle Obama says “if they go low, you go high”. It takes great courage to be an active bystander, so a useful tip is to have a few responses handy:
- “I’m surprised you said that”
- “Some people would find that offensive”
- “I do not appreciate these types of comments”
- “I’m not comfortable with you talking about [them] that way”
- “I don’t understand the point that you are trying to make, are you able to repeat it please”
Silence can be powerful too. A great place to start is not laughing to brush off uncomfortable comments as a joke. It’s important to remember that you don’t need to be in a powerful position to advocate for others and make a difference – you can start right now while you are at university, within your wider community, and after you have graduated and entered the profession. An important note to remember is that respect for women must also come from within our own gender – we don’t get a free pass to be disrespectful just because we too are women.
Create Your Own Opportunities
Be confident and believe in yourself! Apply for jobs that you want! You should feel free to choose to apply for a job in any area of the law (not just those that traditionally employ women). There is also no harm applying for a job when you don’t meet 100% of the criteria. Everyone has to start somewhere; you never know whether your application and passion will be the one that captures the employer’s attention. I’ve said it before – don’t discredit your experience! Many of the skills that you obtain through non-legal work experiences and extracurricular activities are transferable. Start building up your CV now by participating in NDSLS Competitions, nominating yourself for a position within a Club or Society, and volunteering (both internally and externally).
Only Judge if You Are One
Don’t waste time judging others based on what they wear - and don’t waste time worrying about what you wear. Some people choose to wear skirts or dresses, others slacks or a suit, heels or flats, makeup or no makeup (or pyjamas when on Zoom). There is absolutely no need to worry about whether your clothes are new or designer – it doesn’t matter if you’ve worn the same blouse and trouser combo to two interviews – and don’t be afraid of wearing ‘feminine florals’. As university students we can use this time to express ourselves through what we wear (and no one should be judging someone based on the way they express themself). What is important is that you make your choice based on what makes you feel comfortable and presentable. If you feel empowered by a red lip or a cat eye – go for it!
Support Each Other
Try not to see your peers as competitors, but rather your supporters; cheer each other on and celebrate your successes. Be patient, your time will come – whether it’s starting your first legal job, volunteering in your spare time, winning a competition, or being elected to a Society – go at your own pace and don’t compare yourself to the achievements of others. Your biggest competitor is yourself.
It’s important to surround yourself with strong role models. Keep in touch with your peers from university and old colleagues when you change jobs (while also reaching out to new connections to build your network). Talking freely about your concerns will encourage others to share their experiences, building a stronger relationship. You can also consider becoming a member of organisations such as The Women’s Club, Women Lawyers Association of NSW, or Australian Women Lawyers for interesting events and initiatives.
It’s crazy that as soon as I started Law School I started thinking about my future. While it’s important to be prepared for family responsibilities, it is not something that you should let yourself worry about regarding your early career decisions. You can always reach out to other lawyers who have successfully balanced law and family commitments for their advice. When the time comes, have a meaningful discussion with your family, be realistic, and choose what works best for you and your family. You can have it all – but you don’t have to do it all alone.
Creativity, Empathy and Femininity
Did you know that you can be a strong lawyer (and a strong leader) while expressing creativity, compassion and care? It’s okay to build meaningful relationships with your colleagues by exchanging personal stories and baking treats to share. It’s okay to show compassion if a client is upset and offer them a tissue. Be fearless in expressing your femininity! Don’t feel the need to hide away your identity just because you don’t want to be labelled as a stereotypical woman – the truth is, everyone understands and exhibits femininity in different ways.
About the Author
Alicia is studying her fifth year of a Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Arts (Applied Psychology). In addition to her position on the NDSLS as Education Director, Alicia has a passion for reading, rules, and roses. #law #womeninlaw #socialjustice #femalelawyers #iamwoman #resilience #uni #NotreDameAus #NotreDameSyd #ndsls #lawstudent #lawschool