Aussie firms doing us proud: Who struck gold at major awards

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The best female lawyers from across Australia and New Zealand gathered in Sydney last week to celebrate the third Australasian Women in Business Law Awards.
 
Close to 20 Australian firms and their top female lawyers were recognised for being industry leaders in everything from diversity and innovation to mentoring and pro bono work.
 
Australasian Lawyer has spoken to a selection of the winners to discover what they’ve been doing that is special.

Melinda Upton, DLA Piper partner, head of intellectual property & technology Australia, and the Australian Chair of the firm’s Leadership Alliance for Women (LAW); says the awards are a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the success of women in law and highlight what needs to be done to further support them.

“I think what we’re not good at doing is putting our leaders together across the industry. I think it’s still individual-firm driven,” she says “If we all got together we could actually do quite a bit. We don’t need to do it on our own.”

DLA Piper took home an impressive three awards on the night. These included a city award for Canberra, where the office has been led by managing partner Caroline Atkins for many years; and two firm awards: one for “best mentoring programme by international firm” and the other for “best international firm for pro bono work”.

Upton says winning the awards is an honour and she’s delighted that the firm has been recognised amongst its peers.

It’s also a confirmation that the plethora of programmes DLA Piper offers to support diversity are on the right track.

One of the most exciting recent initiatives is the LAW network, says Upton.

Modelled on a highly successful programme at the firm’s American counterpart, the LAW events have been rolled out nationally in Australia and have a focus on encouraging professional women to build and use their business contacts.

“I think that’s the piece of the puzzle getting some real traction. If you look at female behaviour, we’re not very good at using our own contacts – we’re really polite,” says Upton. “We can put all the support in the world around our female lawyers, but the revenue piece of the puzzle and development of clients is absolutely crucial.”

And as well as LAW, DLA Piper offer a variety of mentoring programmes, including Keep in Touch, which supports women while they’re on parental leave and when they return to work.

The firm also has a flexible work arrangement policy for all staff, which is promoted by lawyers at partnership level.

“We need to be proactive about promoting women through all levels and creating role models. I think partners cast long shadows, and we’re part of showing that flexible working is acceptable,” Upton says.

Another firm to win big on the day was Baker & McKenzie, which took home three of the coveted “firm” awards.

These were for “best firm for diversity by international firm”, “best international firm for talent management” and “best international firm for women in business law in Australasia”.

Australian national managing partner Chris Freeland says the awards are very significant in the Australasian legal space.

The firm’s Baker Women programme has been a key driver of promoting diversity in the workplace, he says.

“There are a number of elements, but it’s about visibility and publicly talking about gender diversity, and we have a number of projects to help our women,” Freeland says. “Gender diversity is a real priority for us and we have a very active committee. I’m part of that group, and together we’ve really lifted the profile. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making good traction and the awards were a nice recognition of what we’re trying to achieve.”

Top tier Minter Ellison was also recognised at the Australasian Women in Business Law Awards.

Partner Karen Payne was awarded “best in tax” and the firm took home the “city” award for Sydney.

A spokesperson for the firm told Australasian Lawyer that events that recognise the contribution that women make to their workplaces are vital as they can prompt discussion of diversity issues.

“As women comprise about 58 per cent of our entire workforce, we have a particular focus on ensuring they have the training, mentoring and opportunities to excel and to become leaders,” the Minters spokesperson says. “Key initiatives we have implemented include unconscious bias training for partners and senior managers and our Working Mothers' Program – both are designed to give our top women every opportunity to progress.”

Other firms to be recognised at the awards included: Norton Rose Fulbright, Clayton Utz, Holding Redlich, King & Wood Mallesons, Ashurst, Sparke Helmore Lawyers, Herbert Smith Freehills, HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, Squire Patton Boggs, Griffith Hack, Lipman Karas, Allens, Gilbert + Tobin, Piper Alderman and Harmers Workplace Lawyers.

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