On 1 March 2017, AWLA hosted Justice Sally Fitzgerald as speaker for our first event of the year.  The evening was a wonderful opportunity for our members to catch up, discuss with Justice Fitzgerald her experiences in law, and also hear from AWLA's President, Janna McGuigan, about AWLA's goals for 2017.  Janna's speech is set out below: 

2017 AWLA President’s Function


Speech of AWLA’s President, Janna McGuigan


Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou, katoa.


My name is Janna McGuigan and I am president of the Auckland Women Lawyers’ Association.


I am honoured to welcome each of you to our first event for 2017, the President’s Function.


I extend a particularly warm welcome to AWLA’s kaumatua here this evening. Their warm and gracious support is AWLA’s backbone and it is my privilege to follow in your footsteps.


Last week, it was said to me (a little wistfully) that AWLA used to be more “activist”.


Flying the AWLA banner, Frances Joychild intervened in Ruka v Department of Social Welfare to argue that battered women’s syndrome effected benefit entitlements; Ailsa Duffy went to the Court of Appeal in Z v Z on reform of relationship property laws. Outside the NZLRs, Kate Davenport QC, Lady Chambers QC and Gillian Coombe QC stormed into the boys’ clubs, built market-leading practices on their way through and remain fierce advocates of the important of women to the profession. These women and many others in Auckland were at the crest of what was surely going to be a tidal wave towards a golden age where lawyers were recognised and rewarded for hard work, faithfulness to the law, and, frankly, merit.



Today my generation of practitioners takes for granted so much of what our founders could not:


  • There are now women partners in all major law firms.
  • We are outraged if women are not appointed as silks in every round.
  • There are women’s robing rooms in the Courts – we expect that.
  • There are part-time positions to accommodate women with children, but we still don’t take those for granted.


The profession’s representative bodies have changed with the times, too. The New Zealand Law Society, the Bar Association and the ADLS now have committees dedicated to supporting and mentoring women and are working hard to address the difficulties for women in progressing to senior ranks. In that regard, I would like to make special mention of Miriam Dean, who is an unfailing supporter of the AWLA and will feature in the ADLS’s forthcoming “Leading Your Career” seminar for women lawyers. In fact, I am thrilled to announce that registration for this premium event is available first to AWLA members – and if you are interested in attending, please contact Stephanie Nicolson, a committee member of the ADLS.


We have come a long way. The time is right to ask ourselves, is AWLA still relevant?


When I think about that question, I think about my past few years in practice:

  • Being told by a senior silk that, as a woman joining the bar, I shouldn’t expect big commercial briefs.
  • Despite a very supportive firm with great role models, striving in a full time job on part-time pay to manage children and clients;
  • Figuring out what style of advocacy works for me in courtrooms often dominated by men.






And when I look around I see that my professional experiences might not be that different from women’s experience in the commercial community overall:


  • We still have a dearth of women in the boardroom. And despite initiatives like 25 Percent and NZX diversity reporting, the percentages of female directors and senior managers is slipping backwards, not forwards.
  • The global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi had spent “no time” thinking about his company’s gender equity and diversity performance, because, after all, many female creatives do not take top leadership roles because they simply want to be happy and “do great work.”


  • And our own Prime Minister will not describe himself as a feminist or even acknowledge what that word might mean.


So yes, AWLA is still relevant! We are not in a golden age of women in law when the youngest members of our profession reported to Otago university researchers that:


  • They worry that gender bears directly on their prospects of success in the profession;
  • They believe that being female means they are likely to progress slower and ultimately be paid less than male colleagues;
  • They feel like they have to earn respect, while their male counterparts demand it;
  • In their day-to-day work, they feel undervalued and belittled, particularly when they are forced to listen to disparaging remarks from men about senior women of the profession.


You see, at its best, the AWLA is no more and no less than a place for Auckland women lawyers to come together in solidarity.


  • When a young woman says she worries that she can’t balance law with the lifestyle she wants, we’ll show you a hundred women who have excelled at both.
  • When a young woman says she feels shut out of practicing in a specialised area in the law, we’ll get together the best minds in that practice area to help her boot open the door.
  • When a young woman says she isn’t getting paid the same as Tom, Dick, and Harry down the corridor, we’ll fight for pay transparency, against unconscious bias and, with the help of the likes of Nina Khouri, teach her how to negotiate for what she wants.


These issues are the AWLA’s focus this year. “Know your Worth”. Research shows that the pay gap between men and women lawyers begins as early as the second year of practice. In 2017 AWLA will be encouraging all firms, large and small, to actively measure pay by gender, and to take steps to ensure that gender bias does not affect salary decision-making. And, following great demand last year, we will be re-running a session on salary negotiations called “Know Your Worth.”


We will be pushing a policy agenda too. AWLA thinks it’s time that the NZBA’s equitable briefing policy becomes compulsory: we will advocate in 2017 for the Government and other large clients to prefer firms who demonstrate a real and measurable commitment to equal opportunities for women. And we will look to collaborate with the NZ Bar Association on areas where women are traditionally underrepresented as advocates, especially commercial litigation.


Finally, in 2017 AWLA will be issuing a report outlining the diversity initiatives implemented by large NZ firms. We had a wonderful response from many large and medium sized firms at the end of last year, and we are now preparing and collating that data into a public report. We want to establish a data series which can be re-run in future years to measure the success of such initiatives against firm’s partnership numbers by gender – because we’ve asked for those figures too. We think this report will allow our members to accurately value flexible work and parental leave offers, and also to know whether their employers are “walking the talk”.


I am privileged to have the support of a wonderful committee this year, especially our Vice President Alicia Murray, Special Counsel at DLA Piper. We carry on the wonderful work of Angela Stafford and her 2016 governance committee. That work gives us the means and ability to confidently tackle our 2017 initiatives.


For the young women who responded to Josh Pemberton’s survey at the University of Otago, the decisive factor in job satisfaction and staying in the profession was having a role model who they could relate to. Role models who young Auckland women lawyers can look up to and imagine themselves becoming are vital.


Which is why I am thrilled to introduce tonight’s speaker – Justice Sally Fitzgerald.


Justice Fitzgerald graduated from Victoria University where she was the Senior Scholar in her year.


She joined the Wellington office of Russell McVeagh as a solicitor before taking up a position at Clifford Chance, London practising in the area of international dispute resolution. With stints in New Zealand and in Australia at Mallesons, Sally returned to New Zealand and joined the partnership of Russell McVeagh. Before Sally joined the Bench, she was a member of the firm’s Board of Management. Justice Fitzgerald has specialised in complex commercial dispute resolution, including regulatory investigations and proceedings, tax litigation, and arbitration law and practice.


Outside her stellar practice and now judging career, Sally has been a staunch supporter of women in the profession and a wonderful mentor to the young women lucky enough to work alongside her, particularly in her time at Russell McVeagh. Indeed, while at Russell McVeagh, Justice Fitzgerald led that firm’s focus on its diversity initiatives.


Sally is a role model indeed and we are lucky and pleased to welcome her this evening to give our keynote address. Judge.