Full Time Practice

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Australia Part II: Law School, Women Attorneys, the Law Society

(Taken from an interview with Helen Black, JRCLS Australia Adelaide Chapter chair.)

What is law school like in Australia?

I applied for a place in the 4 year undergraduate law degree at the University of Notre Dame Australia and was very excited to be accepted - and just a little bit terrified. I had been out of education for a very long time and felt that Disney movies, a wide repertoire of Wiggles songs and excellent nappy changing skills had done little to prepare me for law school.  I was wrong. Life experience helps so much in the study of law. For example you understand what a mortgage really is when you have been paying one for years!

I loved law school.  I was able to fit in my timetable around my children's school hours and it felt so good to be intellectually challenged again. I love my children and I am very grateful that I have the opportunity to be a mother, but I also wanted fulfillment in other areas of my life. Being a mature age student in my 30's I found study was so much easier. My lecturers were amazing and I still remain friends with a number of them to this day.

Are there very many women attorneys in Australia?

Women make up more than half of the law school cohort in Australia and there are many women lawyers in Adelaide. In family law, women lawyers are the majority.  Statistically women tend to leave the practice of law in greater numbers than men do, for reasons that are still being debated, but the glass ceiling seems to be alive and well. It is a demanding career and not for everyone. But it is also very rewarding.

Did/do you run into any difficulties as a woman attorney?

I have found the legal community to be wonderfully accepting and supportive, particularly other senior male practitioners within the church who mentored and encouraged me. When I graduated I was the only LDS female practitioner in the entire state of Western Australia (where I was living) which is about 4 times the size of Texas. Two years ago my family moved to South Australia where there are about 4 LDS women practicing law.

After graduating from law school many women within the church were openly critical of my decision to practice and work full time which was a bit hurtful. But you can't please all of the people all of the time!

What have you enjoyed most about being the chair of the Adelaide Chapter?

We are currently in the final countdown towards organising the Annual JRCLS Asia-Pacific Conference right here in Adelaide on 7 - 9 June 2013 which is shaping up to be a fantastic event. Our organising committee have put together seminars on Saturday with presenters from all over Australia. Friday night registration is being catered by 'Masterchef' Poh Ling Yeow!

We are holding a black tie Charity Art Auction and Dinner Dance in the cell blocks of the historic Old Adelaide Gaol on Saturday night. Local artists have donated art pieces to be auctioned and the money raised will benefit Catherine House - a charity that assists homeless women with children in South Australia.  The old gaol is a convict relic and was still being used until the late 1980's. The ambience is a bit spooky and lots of fun!!

If anyone reading this is interested in coming, we would love to welcome you to Adelaide! Click this link for more information: https://sites.google.com/site/jrclsconference2013/.

(There are other female chapter chairs in the Australia Asia area.  They are: Mary Ann L. Ojeda, Philippines Manilla Chapter; Soraya Barker, New Zealand Hamilton Chapter; and, Hilary Seymour, New Zealand University of Waikato.)

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