Making the Leap: Newcastle Mentoring Program for Women

Michelle Meares

In March 2022, Newcastle-based Public Defender Lizzie McLaughlin devised and ran a mentoring program for women aspiring to be barristers in the Newcastle and Hunter region.

At this time, there was a significant shortage of women barristers in the Newcastle and Hunter area. Two of the most regularly briefed women barristers in family law had recently been appointed to the Federal Circuit and Family Court of Australia (their Honours Judge Vivien Carty and Judge Julie Kearney). The lack of women to brief was keenly felt by the local practitioners, particularly in the area of family law.

The program was launched at an International Women’s Day panel discussion held at the University of Newcastle. After a rousing Q&A with women barristers who had already ‘made the leap’, invitations to participate were sought from local female lawyers with at least five-years’ PAE who were willing to sit the Bar exams in 2022 and 2023. Curricula vitae were provided and ultimately all seven women who expressed an interest joined the program. Each of these would-be barristers was then matched with a local barrister as mentor to work one-on-one throughout the program.

The keystones of the program were the monthly breakfast meetings held in Newcastle which focussed on exploring issues about the reality of life at the Bar and demystifying the challenges associated with making the leap from solicitor to barrister.Topics such as advocacy, work/life balance, setting up chambers and administration, working with solicitors and studying for the bar exams were covered by local guest speakers including the Honourable Justice Margaret Cleary, Judge Julie Kearney and barristers Alexandra Gallimore, Russell Boyd, Michael Weightman, Ben Bickford and Steven Ryan. Accountants Scott Lucas and Gemma Williams from Lambourne Partners ran targeted sessions on accounting and taxation advice for barristers, and a clinical psychologist, Dr Danielle Anthony, on managing stress and mental health.

It was extremely helpful to share study notes and hear participants, who had just sat the exams, give their advice. The connections with the other mentees throughout the study period, exams, Bar Practice Course and readership was invaluable.

Six of the seven mentees have now passed the exam, four are at the bar currently, with two more currently in the September Bar Practice Course.

The solicitors and community of the Newcastle, Hunter and Central Coast area will reap the benefits for many decades into the future due to this injection of more women at the bar in this regional area.

Lizzie McLaughlin was recently awarded the 2022 Regional Leadership Alumni Award from the University of Newcastle.

Newcastle-based solicitors Rose Laffan and Ashleigh John provided critical assistance with the facilitation of the program. Special thanks to those organisations and firms who sponsored and/or hosted the breakfast meetings: Newcastle Bar Association, Newcastle Law Society, Newcastle Chambers, Hunter Street Chambers, Mullane & Lindsay Lawyers and Gillard Family Lawyers. BN

Michelle Meares

Second Floor Selborne Chambers