The Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) was formed in 2013 to create greater cultural diversity and understanding within the senior ranks of the legal profession. On 2 November 2015, we welcomed a new chapter with the formal launch of the New South Wales branch held at Baker & McKenzie’s Sydney’s office. Kingsley Liu, solicitor and director of The People’s Solicitors, was appointed President of the NSW branch.
Over 140 people attended the launch, including the Race Discrimination Commission, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, members of the NSW judiciary, members of Parliament, representatives of NSW law schools, peak bodies such as the NSW Law Society, Law Council of Australia, Diversity Council Australia, NSW Bar Association, law firms, leaders of the business community and diplomatic representatives.
We were privileged and honoured to have special guest speaker Mr Michael Kirby, former High Court judge who is an outspoken champion of diversity in the legal profession.
Mr Kirby started by saying that ‘[n]othing happens in this world unless people stand up for themselves.’ He congratulated the AALA for collecting statistics which showed that even though 9.6 per cent of people within the Australian community are of Asian backgrounds, they account for only 3.1 per cent of partners at major firms. The statistics also show that people of Asian backgrounds comprise of only 1.6 per cent of the Bar and 0.8 per cent of the judiciary.
Mr Kirby acknowledged the importance of this research:
‘You only build the future on the basis of the truth of the present. It’s a wonderful thing that these figures are now known and therefore we have to address them and ask “Well, does it matter?” If it matters, “Why has it happened?” And if it’s happened, “What can we do about it?”
Mr Kirby noted the importance of diversity in the law:
“Law is not an ordinary profession… Law is about the values that inform what we do, how we do it and outcomes… therefore it’s more important in law to reflect the diversity of values than it is in just about anywhere else because law is about power … And if values affect the exercise of power, it is very, very important that the diversity of values and the experience of backgrounds should be reflected.’
He made the important point that because the judiciary usually comes from the bar then we will not ‘provide the catching field for the judiciary unless you have more people in the level of partners at legal firms and members of the bar and silks within the bar.’
Dr Tim Soutphommasane gave the vote of thanks to Mr Kirby and highlighted the good work that the AALA is doing in starting the conversation on cultural diversity in the legal profession.
We are delighted with the success of the launch and we are excited to work with the NSW branch in undertaking initiatives and activities to further the objectives of the AALA.