Wollongong firm leads the way in supporting women working in law

Family friendly: Claire Osborne and other women at RMB Lawyers are involved in an innovative program allowing them to take time out to network & support each other.
Family friendly: Claire Osborne and other women at RMB Lawyers are involved in an innovative program allowing them to take time out to network & support each other.

RMB Lawyers is bucking industry trends with 88 per cent of its female lawyers returning to work after maternity leave.

The Wollongong based firm with offices throughout the Illawarra is already recognised as Australia’s largest regional law firm. But it is achieving industry-leading results for women working in law through innovative programs and flexible working conditions that support career progression.

In 2017, RMB Lawyers launched a new program that sees its female employees take time out from their demanding lives as lawyers and mothers, to gather with the sole purpose of networking and supporting one another.

RMB Lawyers managing partner Craig Osborne said the program was designed to support the development and advancement of women in the profession. “This initiative has been created to avoid seeing the firm’s female lawyers fall in to the common trap of having no personal time. We’ve observed the tendency of our female lawyers to rush around in their role as mother, and then generate significant volumes of work in their time at the firm, leaving little time to relax and feel human. Through this initiative, we want to give our female workforce the opportunity to sit and reflect on the fact that they are important and valued.”

Mr Osborne said RMB Lawyers has been a long-term advocate for the progression of women in law.

The firm has established working conditions that support the return of female lawyers to the workforce after maternity leave.

RMB also provides flexible working conditions and pays 25 per cent of all childcare costs for female lawyers with children from birth to five-years-old, to enable mothers to seamlessly return to the profession.

RMB Partner and Family Law Division leader Claire Osborne said the firm has been both supportive and flexible, making her return to the workplace since the birth of her first child in February 2016 a non-stressful experience.

“There seems to be an industry-wide acknowledgement that there are a large number of women that don’t return to the law profession after having their families, due to inflexible work practices, including long hours,” she said.

“RMB stands out from the crowd in their support of working mothers. I was actually promoted to partner whilst on my maternity leave. RMB have supported my return to work by offering a flexible three-day working week and the option to work some of those days from our Kiama office. This makes childcare arrangements more convenient for my family, enabling me to continue to pursue my career in a highly supportive and flexible environment”.

Mr Osborne said RMB believes all its team members are extraordinary and contribute to the firm’s value proposition to customers.

“No industry, including law, should be the sole domain of men. Our business needs our female lawyers to perform at their best for our clients. In order to do this, those with young children need appropriate and innovative support from their employer and colleagues. Without this, it is very difficult for them to provide outstanding customer service and just as importantly, develop their career. I have also found that female lawyers bring a particularly outstanding brand of empathy, listening skills, and thoughtfulness to their interactions with our clients. They are very time effective and able to juggle a substantial file load due to their innate ability to prioritise and effectively multitask. We firmly believe that males and females bring equal value to RMB Lawyers and the legal profession, and as such, will do whatever is within our power to see women and mothers continue to advance their legal careers and break glass ceilings”.

RMB Lawyers Associate Lawyer, Anne Barlow said the Illawarra firm deserved to be recognised for developing policies and practices that shift ingrained stereotypes and attitudes about ‘flexible workers’ that can hinder female career progression.

“Having children was the biggest personal development I have undertaken,” she said.

“Returning to work after a baby wasn’t easy for me, but RMB supported me through this transition by giving me flexibility and confidence to build a successful career again. It’s a positive sign when a firm allows its female workforce to shape the business model, rather than forcing us to simply fall into it. It is critical for legal firms to support female employees so that the barriers to career progression are broken down and more females attain leadership positions.”