FOR HER work championing innovation and change for women in the legal profession, Minter Ellison's Cassandra Heilbronn (pictured) has been named the 2016 Emerging Female Leader at the Women's Agenda Leadership Awards.

In addition to her Senior Associate role, Heilbronn is also the President of the Women Lawyers Association of Queensland (WLAQ) where she has been working to shift the legal profession's views on gender diversity.

In recent months she has continued to roll out a series of initiatives which rethink existing paradigms regarding how lawyers live and work.

Speaking to Brisbane Legal, Heilbronn says that that just this week WLAQ has launched a number of exciting new initiatives for women including the Friends of WLAQ program and the Maternity Leave Initiative.

"The Friends of WLAQ program is aimed at senior women in the profession, more than seven years post admission experience," says Heilbronn.

"It is a WLAQ member only benefit and members can look up people who have already applied as friends of the legal profession, and they can be male or female providing basically a senior mentoring program without the formal relationship."

"In relation to the Maternity Leave Initiative, those on maternity leave may at times feel separated or disconnected from the legal profession so what we are looking to do is offer them discount tickets to all of our events as well as to get them to sign up to a specific mailing list so that WLAQ can look at having events tailored for them in the future."

Heilbronn says that one of the major wins for WLAQ in the last few years has been creating greater awareness of the gender related issues which still affect the legal profession. 

"What I would put it down to is awareness," she says.

"I only started practicing in 2007 and during that time discussions regarding equality or diversity, whether from a gender or LGBTI perspective, was simply not mentioned.

"The profession was taken as read. But since that time, the issue has certainly come to the forefront of everyone's mind and I think that is an obstacle that has been overcome and an achievement in of itself."

Heilbronn also says that the Queensland female legal community is aided by the leadership of prominent male figures advocating for change. 

"What we have here that is perhaps different from other states is male lawyers or key male figures in our legal profession ready to stand up and advocate for the interests of women in the legal profession," she says.

"It's not to say they don't have that in other states, but certainly when you look at Dominic McGann (Chairman of Partners at McCullough Robertson) as an example, he is one of Queensland's main champions for change, so I think that is where we have our point of differentiation."

Heilbronn says that while the legal profession in Australia still has a little way to go to catch up to the corporate world in terms of gender diversity, she is optimistic about the future.

"The momentum is there and it is certainly something we can look to overcome and hopefully we'll catch up with the corporate world sooner rather than later," she says.

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