As early as the 1960s, women practising in the law (albeit few in number) recognised the need to meet together for support.
Roma Mitchell QC (as she then was) and others hosted occasional lunches, providing the opportunity for social contact, support and guidance for younger women entering the profession.
Unlike the eastern states, it was not until the 1980s that the concept of a formal association took hold in South Australia. On 21st September 1988 a meeting was held at the Law Society to discuss forming a women lawyers group. Over 95 women attended and 60 more sent their apologies. This represented more than half of the women practising law at that time and clearly indicated that the concept of a women lawyers committee or group had considerable support.
An informal volunteer committee was established. One of the first activities was a dinner for women practitioners, in March 1989. Following is an extract from the first newsletter, published in July 1989:
“As everyone who attended will agree, our inaugural dinner in March was a great success…Following an introduction from Catherine Branson, (now Justice Branson, of the Federal Court), Dame Roma Mitchell addressed the guests. After reminiscing about earlier days, Dame Roma commented on the need for women to actively pursue careers in the law (and related fields) and gave her blessing and encouragement to our Women Lawyers’ section.”
The Women Lawyers Committee of the Law Society was formally established in April 1989. A volunteer committee took responsibility for running the section, which has continued to this day. Then, as now, women were clearly identifying barriers to their career paths and actively seeking solutions. Tax deductibility of childcare was on the agenda, as was concern at the low numbers of women appointed to Courts and Tribunals. Then, as now, there was a commitment to maintaining contact between all women in the law, whether working full time or part time, in private practice or elsewhere.
Women Lawyers has played an active role in the South Australian legal scene ever since, participating in Law Society debates, putting forward submissions on law reform issues, and providing regular social activities. Following the establishment of Australian Women Lawyers in 1997, the Women Lawyers Association of South Australia Inc. has operated as an independently incorporated body, although our activities remain intertwined with those of the Women Lawyers Committee of the Law Society.