Latest news – Law degree fees under fire; Lawyers of colour ‘undervalued’; Workers reflect amid pandemic
Law Council critical of fee hikes for law degrees
Law Council of Australia President Pauline Wright has expressed disappointment over the recent announcement of rising fees for law degrees.
“While the lower fees announced by the government for STEM subjects will be greatly appreciated – especially by those with inclination and talents in those fields – the Law Council finds it disappointing to hear that the government has moved to raise the cost of a law degree by 28 per cent,” she says.
“This will be a severe impediment for students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds – and will add another barrier to those who are underrepresented in the legal profession, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse communities who may not be able to study law. This will include Indigenous Australians at a time when we are facing a serious justice gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and it is undeniable that having more First Nations lawyers results in better outcomes for First Nations communities.”
The government announced an increase of 113 per cent in fees for an arts degree – often studied in conjunction with law – a move the Law Council says “diminishes the breadth of critical thinking within the student cohort”. “That will flow through to our society, with less people with the valuable analytical skills acquired in arts and arts/law degrees being available to benefit the myriad industries and professions they go on to work in.”
Wright says it is well known that it is relatively inexpensive for a university to run a law degree in that such a degree does not require laboratories or expensive equipment. “We understand the need to promote tertiary courses that will drive growth in certain sectors, however this should not come at the expense of those who wish to pursue a career in the law, particularly those who may already find the fees difficult to manage.”
Female lawyers of colour ‘feel undervalued’ in US
Research from the American Bar Association has found that 70 per cent of female lawyers of colour in the United States are likely to seriously consider leaving the profession because they feel undervalued and experience barriers to career advancement.
In their report, called Left Out and Left Behind: The Hurdles, Hassles and Heartaches of Achieving Long-Term Legal Careers for Women of Colour, authors Destiny Peery, Paulette Brown and Eileen Letts say that women lawyers of colour surveyed were far more likely to want to quit the profession than their white colleagues; were more likely to be subjected to both implicit and explicit bias; and were more likely to report factors that blocked their “access to success,” including access to business development opportunities, being perceived as less committed to career and being denied or overlooked for promotion.
The ABA national study examines the ongoing challenges posed by the unique double bind of gender and race for women of colour in the law, says ABA President Judy Perry Martinez. “Everyone in the profession should read this report and implement the solutions offered, so women of colour can finally be credited with the value they add to law firms and the practice of law, and law firms will fully recognise the tremendous talent assets they have within their ranks.”
Peery, Brown and Letts state that participants in the survey reported being aware of the stereotypes that are associated with their groups, and they acknowledged the tightrope they often have to walk to avoid confirming negative stereotypes that might adversely affect perceptions of their job performance. Based on the 2018 Vault/MCCA Law Firm Diversity Study, women of colour make up about 14 per cent of associates in the US, but only about a third make non-equity partner. Moreover, just a fourth make equity partner.
The study presented the following recommendations on how the profession can better retain female lawyers of colour:
- adopting best practices to reduce biases in decision-making
- improving access to effective, engaged mentors and sponsors to limit barriers to career advancement
- going beyond diversity during recruitment and aiming for inclusion to improve retention
- incorporating an intersectional approach to addressing diversity and gender
- creating a more inclusive culture in the profession.
Rethink for office workers after COVID-19
In the wake of COVID-19, many employees are rethinking what is most important when it comes to their career, according to new research from global staffing firm Robert Half.
More than half of office professionals surveyed (57 per cent) say they have experienced a shift in their feelings toward work due to the pandemic. Of those:
- 60 per cent are more motivated to be employed at an organisation that values its staff during unpredictable times
- 40 per cent will prioritise their personal life over their job moving forward
- 33 per cent want to pursue a more meaningful or fulfilling position.
“This has been a time of reflection and reprioritisation for businesses and people,” said Paul McDonald, senior executive director of Robert Half. “Purpose is at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now, and professionals are assessing whether their company’s values align with their own. Employers should take this opportunity to reinforce for their teams the organisation’s mission and community involvement.”
The research also shows that more employees aged 25 to 40 (68 per cent) experienced a change of perspective due to the pandemic than respondents aged 41 to 54 (45 per cent) and 55 and older (40 per cent). Of respondents who said their feelings shifted during COVID-19, more women (65 per cent) than men (56 per cent) expressed interest in working for a company that appreciates its employees during uncertain times.