The Chambers of the Future. Can changes to how we work improve diversity, equality and accessibility at, or to, the bar?

14/10/2021

Technology and how it is used continues to have an impact on how we work. Email was once a novel form of communication. It is now a standard aspect of communication in a barrister’s practice. The e-brief, the video conference and the remote court appearance are changes that are happening now. E-trials as the standard for document heavy trials is on the horizon. Do these technological developments have an impact, positive or negative, on diversity, equality and accessibility?

We have all had a taste of working remotely during COVID lockdowns. Are there positive outcomes for diversity, equality and accessibility that can be adapted from this experience? Are there negative impacts that through knowledge gained can now be avoided? What changes to work practices have individual barristers and chambers developed? Will these be permanent or will everything bounce back to pre-pandemic life?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are an increasing number of barristers, especially working in criminal law, who only have virtual chambers. Why have these barristers chosen to practice this way? Does this type of practice increase social isolation? How are barristers who have adopted this style of practice addressing this and any other negative aspects they may have experienced?

Do current barristers even want “flexible” working arrangements? What work arrangements appeal to those thinking of coming to the bar?

The Diversity and Equality Committee and the Accessibility Panel have established a joint working group to explore these issues. The information gathered may inform future policy decisions of the Bar Association.

The joint working group is currently planning how best to capture relevant information to answer these questions. Investigation models being considered include structured interviews or focus groups. These could be conducted with a wide range of stakeholders that may include barristers, clerks, and prospective barristers found in the ranks of both solicitors and law students.

Stay tuned for further developments as this project proceeds. If you, or anyone you know, has an interest in sharing relevant experiences or wants to have some other input into the issues being investigated please contact Ellyse Matterson, Policy Lawyer at ematterson@nswbar.asn.au.


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