Cultural diversity in the legal profession in focus at public forum

Law books 

An expert panel of lawyers and academics headed by the Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane will take part in an open forum at Western Sydney University to discuss how the traditionally conservative legal profession can increase diversity in the workforce.

The Cultural Diversity and the Legal Profession (opens in a new window) event will take place at the university's Parramatta city campus on Thursday, September 7 at 6pm.

The mix of lawyers in senior leadership positions has long been seen as non-representative of modern Australia. For example, census figures show almost 10 per cent of Australians have an Asian background, yet only 3 per cent of Australian law firm partners were Asian Australian.

In response to concerns about representation, the leading partners at 11 law firms this year signed a cultural diversity commitment to try to increase diversity in leadership roles by gathering data and sharing ideas.

At this event, to discuss these issues and their personal experiences in the industry will be:

  • Tim Soutphommasane, Race Discrimination Commissioner and Chair of the Leadership Council of Cultural Diversity
  • Grace Borsellino, Western Sydney University, has published numerous articles on Corporate Governance with a strong focus on diversity, accountability and corporate culture
  • Nipa Dewan, Barrister and Member of the Australia Bangladesh Business Council. Nipa is also admitted as a Barrister at the Bar of England and Wales, and the Supreme Court of Bangladesh
  • Amrita Goel, Asian Australian Lawyers Association. Since arriving from India, Amrita has been an outspoken advocate for the importance of cultural humility
  • James Arvanitakis Dean of Graduate Studies at Western Sydney University and the Chair of Diversity Arts Australia
  • Shukufa Tahiri, final year law student of Western Sydney University. In 2017, Shukufa was named one of the 15 women championing human rights in Australian by Amnesty International

MC for the evening, Dean of the School of Law, Professor Steven Freeland, says diversity in the legal profession is not only important to help provide a level playing field for lawyers and properly reflect the multicultural nature of our community, it also makes business sense for law firms.

"Diversity in the workforce drives innovation and helps achieve productivity gains, as the background of lawyers starts to reflect the ethnic composition of their client base," he says.

"By increasing diversity in leadership positions, young lawyers are also given positive role models and future mentors to help inspire them to achieve their full potential."

The event is being hosted by the student law magazine Sapere Aude (opens in a new window) and supported by event partners, Asian Australian Lawyers Association (opens in a new window).

For more information please visit the website (opens in a new window)

Ends

5 September 2017

Mark Smith, Senior Media Officer