month's Advocates' Society conference brought together 180 participants from
the bar and bench to exchange ideas on the climate for women in the legal profession.
is more than a single path to explore, there is time to learn from our
mistakes, and there is time to wrestle with the feelings of ambivalence that
afflict most successful litigators at one time or another. There is also time
to raise our children and time to speak not just of professional success but of
recent statistics show that women are entering the profession in greater
numbers than men (women accounted for 57 per cent of lawyers called to the
Ontario bar in July 2005, up three-per-cent over 2004), that doesn't necessarily
mean that change will automatically follow.
clearly not just a matter of time," said Susan Black of Catalyst Consulting.
"Women have been entering the profession for many years now, and given the
numbers of women that have been leaving you can see that women who are coming
in aren't making it to the partnership ranks.
are so many women coming in, coming out of law school, being called to the bar.
It isn't a matter of time. I call that the pipeline myth, the notion that if
you fill your pipeline at the bottom it will automatically push through the
top. It doesn't happen."
Court Justice Harriet Sachs said she's surprised that as the numbers of women
grow in law firms, more isn't done to support alternate work arrangements.
women are able to take their one-year maternity leave, but when they come back,
any kind of adjustment so they can actually spend time with their children
doesn't seem to be happening. It doesn't seem to be getting better," she said.
Catalyst study shows that 84 per cent of women associates polled would choose
to work at another firm if it provided more opportunity for work-life balance.
pointed to five barriers female lawyers face on the partnership track:
· Lack of mentors: "So when you think
about how do we move up, how do we learn the unspoken rules, how do we get
championed, really we need to have someone who is older, wiser, more senior
help you along."
· Lack of access to informal networks:
"When women say they don't get access to informal networks of communication,
what they're saying is, 'We don't have the opportunities to get visibility, get
placed on client calls the same way, we're not as well-known as our male
of role models. "On the more local level within firms or within legal
organizations, we need to see those role models to inspire us and show us how
it's done, to help us make our own informed decisions about what to do."
· Subtle stereotyping: "The kinds of
things we see is a very unconscious perception that women don't have what it
takes; they're not tough enough, they're too emotional, they can't be
rainmakers, they don't argue effectively. And again, these are stereotypes that
are held that people aren't always aware of but that are involved in decision-making
· Work-life balance: "Our research
demonstrates again and again the work-life-balance issues . . . are a barrier
because of the way law firms are set up. They are a barrier also because of the
stigma that can arise."
Court of Appeal Justice Eleanore A. Cronk said there's no reason why in this
day and age more flexible work arrangements are not made for those who need
arrangements, part-time-work arrangements, working at home in the modern age of
technology, all are now open to women," she said. "We have actually been freed
of the slavery of the office . . . you can actually work if you have to from
your dining room table while your children are in the next room, even if it's
only one or two days a week."
Chown, Ontario regional managing partner of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, said there
needs to be better firm outreach to women on maternity or adoption leave or
those faced with elder-care responsibilities. It's not enough for a firm just
to have a good written policy.
of the things that has become particularly evident to us and, I think, those in
law firms trying to assist women through this period is that we need much more
concentrated support around women on flexible work arrangements and on taking
maternity leave," she said.
you leave your practice and go off on maternity leave and then you come back,
it's not just as simple as turning on the tap and looking for your practice to
J. McIntyre, a partner at Cavalluzzo Hayes Shilton McIntyre & Cornish LLP,
said the challenge for women, as a critical mass, is to make a difference in
their firms, on the bench, or as benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada.
She said at her firm there are men and women who work part-time or from home for
technology, people can work at home part of the time. You need to make sure you
have good communication between the lawyers. When a man goes off on a long
trial for a month, like my senior partner has been in Ottawa for the last year
on a commission of inquiry, nobody suggests that his practice will disappear,
so with the right attitude and the right effort it certainly can be done."