Education

Barristers Working To Change The Public’s Perception Of Them

The average stereotype of a barrister working at any family law firm in Melbourne or anywhere else in Australia is that of a 50-plus-year-old male, white man raking in more than $330,000 at least according to a survey published by the Victorian Bar Association.

Recent data, however, has also noted that the bar is changing, and Victoria’s barristers, from across the state, from family law firm in Melbourne, to divorce lawyers in Beechworth, have worked with photographer Garth Oriander to create a monochromatic photography exhibition to be displayed at Queensland’s Peter O’Callaghan starting from August.

Reportedly the aim of the exhibit is not only to show diversity in barristers beyond the old Anglo-Saxon male stereotype, but also to display the bar as an approachable, welcoming environment across the board, for both aspiring barristers and clients.

President of the Victorian Bar Association, Matt Collins, says that barristers come from all walks of life; pregnant women, surfers, and the like. The bar is now accepting younger people, it’s now more gender and ethnically diverse, and the photos show it, plain and simple.  The photos even have barristers wearing casual wear, conversing, and smiling instead of sporting the stereotypical dour lawyer look. He says that it’s unfair to stereotype barristers as old white guys wearing wigs.

In the 1930s, a photo of the whole Victorian bar had 150 white men, all looking alike. 50 years later, in the 80s, there was only one woman barrister – Susan Crennan, who then moved on to become a High Court judge. Around that time, only about 5% of barristers were women.

Now, about a third of Victoria’s barristers as women, with many climbing the ranks and reaching the higher income brackets. About 40% had a parent born overseas, with 15% born outside of Australia, and 1.2% of barristers from Indigenous groups. Collins says that he’s very serious about changing the image of barristers into something more modern, more accessible, approachable and amiable.

While the bar remains not as diverse as most of Australia, particularly with regards to culture and ethnicity, the Victorian bar is taking steps not only to keep an eye on pay gap and diversity, but also to implement programs that deal with equitable briefing and unconscious bias, with the goal to make the bar more welcoming and human, both for barristers and clients.