As a County Court Judge, My Anh Tran presides over some of the most complex commercial legal cases in Victoria.

It’s a position that sees her held in high esteem. But during her legal career, Ms Tran says she hasn’t always felt respected.

As a young lawyer, she said she was told to change her name and was denied opportunities because of her race.

“I was certainly stereotyped as an Asian female,” Ms Tran said.

“There was a lot of well-meaning advice to change my name, a number of compliments on how well I spoke English.”

Early in her career, Ms Tran said many of her superiors considered her “someone who could be relied upon to work extremely hard, but perhaps not so much someone to whom speaking roles should be given, or who could be trusted to run cases.”

While two decades have passed since Ms Tran was admitted to the Victorian Bar, she said the country’s legal system still had a “long way to go” to embrace cultural diversity.

My Anh Tran says her superiors didn’t consider her as being suitable for speaking roles or running cases.(Supplied: County Court)

‘Cultural nuances … not necessarily understood’ 

During a speech at an Asian Australian Lawyers Association (AALA) event last week, Ms Tran said changing legal culture was “complex and difficult”, but it was “no longer good enough to shy away from those hard questions”.

“We need to think about a change to the culture of the law, to one which embraces and encourages and accommodates diversity. [To] one that doesn’t start from an assumption that behaviours are founded in the white European culture,” she said.

Advocacy groups like the AALA want the legal industry to keep up with the evolving needs of Australia’s multicultural society.

The AALA is calling for a raft of changes to be made to how courtrooms operate, including comprehensive benchbooks for judges to help them understand specific cultural customs.

“There’s a number of cultural nuances to litigants that are from diverse backgrounds, and they’re not necessarily understood by the judiciary,” AALA president Molina Asthana said.

Dowry, where money is paid from a woman’s family to her husband upon marriage, was one concept some family law judges failed to grasp, Ms Asthana said.

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