Breaking the Glass Ceiling

Brigid Horneman-Wren

The appointment of Susan Kiefel AC as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia in November last year challenged two of the key components of the longest standing stereotype of the legal profession: that it is dominated by white, middle class men.

Kiefel’s appointment is, indeed, momentous. In 113 years, she is only the first woman to be the nation’s top judge. Having left school at the end of Grade 10, she completed her education while working as a legal clerk, passing the Barristers Admission Board course with honours. With an Honorary Doctorate from Griffith University, the attention Justice Kiefel received from media, legal professionals, and the wider public following her appointment was not the first time she has been recognised for the way she has led the way for women in the legal profession, and the significant contribution she has made to her industry.

But to laud the historic appointment as one demonstrating that barriers to female and low socioeconomic success in the law have been removed is perhaps looking at justice a little too blindly. While the gender divide for law students has certainly been levelled, what hasn’t is the alarmingly low retention rate for talented women lawyers. And the majority of those who undertake tertiary legal studies have not only gone to a private or selective school that supported them through to attaining a significantly high ATAR; they call a city their home. As noted by Marcia Devlin, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Federation University Australia, low SES and rural students generally have lower ATARs than those who are wealthy and live in metropolitan areas, and this has nothing to do with their intelligence: ‘[t]hey just have less of the social and cultural capital that counts for school education outcomes’.[1]

Attend any event targeted at women lawyers today and you will likely be told by someone in a corporate law firm of the support that they receive within their workplace – whether that be through maternity plans, flexible work spaces, or part time employment. But while these examples are to be commended, the general statistics speak differently. Unconscious bias towards women remains, half of women lawyers who work part-time report discrimination, and women make up only 10% of senior appointments. Although Kiefel became the first female Queen’s Counsel in Queensland 30 years ago, the law remains an industry that is one of the least friendly for women. Radical change is yet to be seen in repairing a massive gender pay gap, inflexible workplaces, and a dearth of women in senior positions within both the judiciary and private practice.

And while it’s certainly fantastic to now have a woman in the most senior legal position in the country, we must be careful of the difference between recognising achievements, and putting pressure on all women lawyers to do the same. As President of the ACT Women Lawyers’ Association and ANU Alumnus Prue Bindon cautioned at last year’s Women in Law Breakfast, we must be careful when we recognise women as trail blazers, lest we continue to mount pressure on them to ‘have it all’ – a job, a family, and achievements no woman has had before them.

Elitism of various degrees is a further stereotype of lawyers that refuses to fade. Whether lawyers are criticised for thriving off family connections or coming from private schools, the fact remains that ‘[t]he main barrier to people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering the legal profession is the need to be accepted into and then complete law school’.[2] And depending which research you believe in what leads to better school results – the private vs public debate, or conclusions that it’s all down to socioeconomic background – it’s indisputable that a combination of student demand and University aims to create illusions of quality in their courses results in unrealistically high ATAR cut-offs, which disproportionally affect low SES students. And once in university, greater degrees of stress and difficulties in accessing various avenues for support continue to affect rural and low SES students in their path to graduation, and therefore to future legal practice.

With the ATAR cut-off forever creeping higher for law admissions, resulting in opportunities for bonus points that recognise disadvantage being wiped away, it is right that we be concerned about how representative the lawyers we are educating will be. If our current Chief Justice came from Far North Queensland and didn’t even complete high school, can the number 98 on its face value really be considered an indicator of who the top legal mind in Australia may be?

Malcolm Turnbull reportedly remarked to Chief Justice Kiefel that her appointment was an historic moment for women. Her reply, ‘I regarded it as more of a natural progression’,[3] reflected a more grounded sentiment. She has worked hard to rise through the profession, just as 13 Chief Justices have before her. What sets her apart, that she was a woman who overcame disadvantage by working full-time while studying at night, is, however, by no means a thing of the past.

Brigid is a third year BA/LLB (Hons) student, feminist, and a Peppercorn editor. 

[1] Marcia Devlin, The ‘truth’ about ATARs (19 January 2015), National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education <>.
[2] Angela Melville, ‘Barriers to entry into law school: an examination of socio-economic and Indigenous disadvantage’ (2014) 24 Legal Education Review 45, 45.
[3] Jamie Walker, ‘Susan Kiefel: from high school dropout to chief justice’, The Australian (Surry Hills), November 30 2016, 1.
Photo credit:

Q&A with Sarah Lynch

Tiffany P. Monorom

Sarah is an alumnus from the ANU College of Law and is currently thefounder and Editor-in- Chief of BucketOrange Magazine. She recently visited the ANU campus and this is what she has to say about her career.

1. What do you miss most about law school, specifically the ANU School of Law and the ANU campus?
“I’m all about autumn at the ANU. I really miss the time of year when the stretch of Elm trees between the ANU Engineering Building and Hancock Library turn orange and yellow. It has to be one of the best and most magical places on earth. Weirdly, I also miss the smell of books in the law library. I see that students are still periodically posting pictures of desk graffiti on Instagram. The classic question “You may get a law degree … but will you get a life?” and response “Lawyers don’t need lives or personalities” is still accurate and even now makes me giggle.”

2. Why did you decide to study law?
“Good question. I was a sucker for punishment, I guess. Haha!”

3. If you could go back to being a law student, what would you have done differently?
“Well, if we’re being honest, I probably should have studied more regularly rather than leaving everything to a state of blind panic a few days before a 100% exam.”

4. Can you tell us about your career?
“I started out writing album reviews for The Canberra Times’ weekly “Fly” lift out during my uni days. After graduating I cut my teeth as a lawyer in the Federal government and worked my way up to a senior position over a couple of years before deciding to pursue my other passions for writing and music. I landed a paid writing gig (unheard of!) in the music industry at a new music marketing startup where I spent my days in a loud and sunny Sydney office, drinking coffee, listening to Belle &amp; Sebastian, chatting with like-minded creative types and writing guides for musicians. It was a complete contrast to my previous legal role and one of the first times I realised that it was possible to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives through digital publishing.

Some pretty famous Australian artists used to visit the office – and you learn a
lot about yourself in those situations. One day I found myself alone in the bathroom with Suze DeMarchi from the 90s band Baby Animals and even though I consciously told myself to go “easy girl,” my enthusiasm was at about “10” and she needed it to be at around “2”. I ended up fangirling and completely ambushed her about how much I loved her new album. She was gracious and calm but out the door as soon as she had re-applied her signature red lipstick!”

5. How did you come up with the idea for BucketOrange Magazine?
“I think being fortunate enough to work in legal and writing roles, and getting experience in international human rights law while volunteering at a human rights centre in Botswana really helped form the idea for the publication. It crystallised in my mind that finding a way to blend all these passions and experience into an initiative that served the public good was my only logical next step. After I couldn’t find a job in the legal industry that fitted the bill or (surprisingly!) any other publications that were breaking down complex legal issues for a non-legal audience, I realised that it was up to me to start it.

I’ve always felt that having an education is a privilege and that we have a responsibility to use that privilege to help others. A law degree gives you so many insights into how to navigate life and how to protect yourself and your rights. It’s also something that most lawyers take for granted. There’s a pervasive mentality in the legal community that lawyers are the gatekeepers to the law, largely because the practice of law is a business and the industry is unfortunately overly focused on profit. My publication is working towards dispelling that falsehood and improving access to the law for young Australians – because the law affects everyone and should be accessible to everyone. The reality is that if you understand your basic legal rights, you’re much better placed to identify an everyday legal issue early and to either do something to prevent it escalating or understand when to contact a lawyer, and how to explain your problem. It saves lawyers and clients time and money and, most importantly, keeps young Australians out of the court system. To my knowledge, BucketOrange Magazine is the only independent publication with this unique preventative law focus.”

6. What do you find most challenging about starting your own business?
“I think it’s the hardest thing I have ever done, and will ever have to do. This
type of legal publishing is completely unchartered territory which is thrilling but also terrifying because there is no blueprint to follow. Everything is new. I have to constantly innovate to make sure that we stay relevant and interesting to our audience and to stay ahead of cheap imitators. Being able to influence people’s minds and shape community thinking around important social, political and legal issues is also a huge responsibility and not something that I take lightly.

Being a woman in a new leadership role in the legal industry has also attracted its own suite of challenges. Positive steps are being made towards gender equality but unfortunately we’re not there yet.”

7. Do you have any future plans for BucketOrange Magazine?
“Huge plans are brewing for the publication this year and into the future. BucketOrange has always been more than just a magazine; it’s promoting an aspirational lifestyle. We’re really excited to be collaborating with a number of different organisations to launch some very exciting initiatives that will improve the lives of young Australians. Watch this space.”

8. Do you have any advice for law students who wish to pursue alternative careers such as starting their own business?
“If your dream job doesn’t exist, then create it. Get some experience under your belt by working for a few different organisations. Use this time to get a feel for what you are passionate about, what your strengths and weaknesses are, who you are and where you really want to be with your life. This will inform which career path will be a good fit for you.

Then get out of your head. Don’t think so much. Just go for it. My career is the perfect example of why you don’t need to know where you are going, you only need to know what you love doing and the rest will naturally fall into place. Starting a business is not the time to use your lawyer brain because if you over-analyse it and worry about everything that might go wrong, you’ll never do it.

There’s also “more than one way to skin a cat.” Even though there is strong competition to secure a graduate position, if you want to work in a legal role in the private sector my advice is to try not to put so much pressure on yourself or to expect too much too soon. Take the blinkers off and try to adopt a more open-minded approach to your legal career. Landing a job at a top tier firm should not be your only metric for success. Think outside the bucket and see where it takes you.”

LSS Experiences: The Gibbs Moot

James Barrett

Overall Experience

We had fun and are grateful for the experience. The competition was excellently hosted and friendly. It was nice to see the Melbourne University faculty, local barristers and former judges involved and willing to chat to competitors at length. We highly recommend this competition. This brief piece serves as an honest reflection on our experience and advice to future competitors.

Accommodation and Transportation

We flew from Canberra. The inconvenience of flying from Sydney didn’t appear cost-effective. We arrived about 3pm the day before registration. We left the afternoon after the competition. This was ideal.

We booked an AirBnB place near Queen Victoria Markets about 12 minutes’ walk from Melbourne Uni. There was no stress with transport, and although there some tight turn-arounds between commitments, we had time to drop our stuff at home, refresh, work there and use Melbourne Uni facilities when needed.

Written Submissions

Here we focus on teams that clearly put in much effort. The difference in memorial quality – both in depth of research and answering the questions – was obvious only to better competitors and judges. Some judges said, fairly, our memorials were dense, with lots of work done through footnotes. Judges who weren’t well acquainted with the area missed nuances and liked readability.


The standard of oral presentation was high and the preliminary judges’ expertise in the area varied. We realised it was best to start by assuming nothing of the judge, gauge how to work with them during the moot, and state the flaws in opposing arguments simply, ruthlessly and respectfully.

Our key strength was collective depth of research. This meant we could: (1) pick the best arguments early; (2) resort to on-point authority in tricky situations; (3) understand the underly- ing principles and debates; (4) react to the other side’s arguments put at their highest, within our own structure. Those strengths helped our delivery. We honed our use of authority towards the judges’ backgrounds, without just saying they should accept things because they had said them before. In the grand final both teams had amazing presentation but our strengths made the difference.

Team Dynamics

By rotating speaking roles between the three of us in the preliminary rounds we balanced fatigue-management with expertise on particular roles. For the finals, we unanimously chose speakers with greatest depth of knowledge and therefore the best ability to react to questions which were hard or sniped weak spots in our arguments.

We were friends before the competition, but there were tense times. We gave constructive feedback when appropriate, with the mutual understanding that it was for everyone’s benefit.

One universally useful tenet was to ‘keep perspective’. We needed to detox from the competition sometimes. This brings us to:

Social Events and Activities

We hit Lygon Street a few times. Once we went to a homely Italian restaurant. Another time we brought food back, chatted and watched TV. There was a nice cocktail event where the break was announced. We took a breath and feigned socialising but our heads were in the game.

The gala dinner was ‘black tie’, but most people were dressed as if for law ball. Ladies went through slightly less trouble for obvious reasons. Everyone looked hot. People were fairly friendly. Most were tired, so there was no expectation to be very social or kick on. Will and Prashant went to bed around 10.30pm. Nerds.


We extend our gratitude to Associate Professor James Stellios, our coach, for taking the time to provide feedback on the merit of our arguments, organise practice moots and judge us. We thank Doctors Dominique Dalla-Pozza and Ryan Goss for judging those moots and supporting us.


James Barrett

Prashant Kelshiker

Will Randles

Review: Joe Cinque’s ‘Consolation’

Harry McLaurin

In October 1997, ANU law student Anu Singh was charged with the murder of her boyfriend, Joe Cinque. Killed as part of a sordid suicide pact of which Cinque was an unknowing participant, Singh twice injected Cinque with potentially lethal doses of heroin while he was asleep, having rst drugged his coffee with Rohypnol. Cinque’s prolonged death came despite a number of friends being aware of Singh’s disturbing plan. Singh and a fellow law student, Madhavi Rao, were put on trial for Cinque’s murder. Singh was found guilty of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility and Rao was acquitted of all charges. Singh served four years in prison where she completed her law degree before going on to do Masters degree in criminology and then a PhD on female offenders.

This angering and troubling tale was originally given a voice in Helen Garner’s book Joe Cinque’s Consolation, which explores whether the single-judge trial at the ACT Supreme Court truly brought justice to Cinque’s grieving family. It examines the greater question of morality beyond the letter of the law and seeks to preserve Cinque’s life in memory and provide justice to his brother and parents whose lives were also destroyed by the actions of Singh’s hideous actions. Sotiris Dounoukos’s adaptation, which shares the same title, examines what happened before the murder. Investigating the mentality and conflicted morals of the friends who were aware of Singh’s plot yet said nothing, and the gradual mental deterioration of Singh which led her to commit such a heinous crime. In that sense, it is a story of ethics, culpability and relationships.

Filmed at ANU and around Canberra, the campus and city play as much a role in the story as the characters. The quiet middle-class suburban setting in which most of the events take place contrast strikingly with the intense drama that unfolds be- tween Singh and her inner circle. While Canberra locals will be able to spot obvious inconsistencies between the cityscape and the lm’s 90s setting, Dounoukos does his best to capture the life of an ANU student involving in the underground drug culture of the time. Indeed, the sheer mundanity of the setting acts as the impetus for the casual drug use which takes place, as the psychedelic effects become an escape for the lonely, desperate and bored. The quiet serene beauty of the ANU cam- pus, which at times resembles a university marketing video, is also at odds with the complexity of the characters and the mental trauma that takes place. Indeed, the lm feels very close to home. There are shots in Chifley, Coombs lecture theatre (renamed ‘University Moot Court’), the law school lawns, Sully’s Creek and University Avenue with the fluff falling from the trees. The fact that these events occurred within this tranquil space is deeply disturbing and unnerving.

Singh, portrayed by Maggie Naouri, conveys a compelling combination of beauty, narcissism and destructiveness. From her first interaction with Cinque in a bar to her final chilling telephone call to the emergency operator after Cinque’s death, you sense the underlying disturbances present in every action she takes. Naouri is believable as we all know someone with her outward characteristics – her intelligence, her somewhat shy demeanour, her beauty and her selfishness.

Yet it is a shock to believe that such a monster could be hidden beneath this everyday personality in a sophisticated and highly educated setting such as ANU. Naouri does an excellent job at showing how Singh’s bodily insecurities spiral out of con- trol into borderline personality disorder, severe depressive disorder and psychotic delusions. Her manipulation of Cinque is painful to watch, but you are given a glimpse into the reason underlying
her actions. Her delusions about her own terminal illness and the need to end her and Cinque’s lives may provide consolation to those angered by the original trial judge’s seeming leniency towards Singh in finding manslaughter rather than murder. Yet understanding the purpose for Singh’s actions no doubt provides little consolation to Cinque’s family given the film’s graphic portrayal of Cinque’s death and the dif culty in empathising with Singh. Indeed Singh is given few redeeming features. As a result you leave the film angered and confused, yet perhaps this is the outcome Dounoukos is seeking – which perhaps mirrors the sentiment felt by Cinque’s family.

Cinque himself, played by Jerome Meyer, displays the gentleness, loyalty and decency that has been attributed to the young engineer. While his seeming ignorance of Singh’s premeditated plot to kill him is explained by his trust and dedication, you gain the sense that his passive presence on screen is designed to de ect attention from him to the actions of his killer and her friends. As a result you gain a deep respect and admiration for Cinque and a deep loathing of Singh.

The most troubling aspect of the lm comes from the culpability and moral apathy of the friends who were aware of Singh’s plot. The role of Singh’s enabler, Rao, who purchased the drugs and set up the ‘farewell’ dinner parties on the pretext that Singh was committing suicide was shocking. It is horrifying when not one guest seeks to confirm the plan with Cinque, with each friend wilfully turning a blind eye to the warning signs of his impending death. The bystander effect, displayed on screen by the worried glances, unease and discomfort of the characters, serves as a lesson for people to seek help for friends struggling with mental illness. While some friends express reservations and seek to intervene, the lack of resolve which you would expect of a person in this situation leads you to resent these characters almost as much as Singh. While Singh is mentally unsound, the stoned, entitled and cavalier attitudes displayed by this group offers little consolation.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation is a mesmerising and saddening film displaying the worst of human nature. While it may contribute to preserving Cinque’s memory into the future, it leaves you yearning for justice to be served to those morally culpable for Singh’s crimes.

LSS Bans Tickets

Dan Trevanion LSS President 2016

The ANU LSS is conscious of the progressive use of tickets in its elections over the past 3 years. The existing electoral by-laws of the Society did not adequately address the use of tickets and so

I felt it was necessary for the Society to either formally accept or reject tickets in our elections. I believe the motion to reject tickets was correct for two main reasons.

First, that tickets create the perception of a closed system, dissuading students from running for a position if they have not been sought by a ticket. Our committee discussed this aspect in detail, and in my opinion, correctly concluded that even initiatives like the ANUSA expression of interest form do not dispel this perception. The ANU LSS operates on the trust its members place in us as their representatives. Encouraging an election that perpetuates a perception of exclusivity undercuts our ability to act as representatives of our commu- nity.

Second, that tickets fundamentally align students with a certain policy or ideology. The ANU LSS, as successful as it has been in carving out an advocacy role, is at its core a functional body that operates through events.

For this reason, individuals that have strong organisational skills, communicative ability and work-ethic are needed. These capacities are personal and are not strengthened by running together with other students. Instead, running as a ticket is more likely to push these personal attributes to the background and bring group policy to the fore. To ensure the Society oper- ates with the best personnel in the future it is critical that our elections encourage students with the appropriate attributes to run and al- lows for students to distinguish themselves on the basis of these attributes.

I encourage people to read the minutes of the meeting on the 21st of August for some of the other opinions offered: committee-meeting-minutes/

Our elections will begin in early October and we encourage all law students to be involved. We will be holding an information session with current committee members in the lead up to nominations. Keep a look out for the time and date at .