Editorial: Plus ça change

“They are bright. They are ethical. They are hardworking. Everything a client would want in a lawyer. So why has a sociologist, after interviewing 30 women practising law in the Toronto area, been left feeling that too many are being driven out of the profession?”

Would those words apply today? They probably would. But they actually date back to a front page Law Times story on July 17, 1995, detailing a study that found a “dark side” to the profession for many of the women interviewed.

The economic pressure of the 1990s was exerting tremendous stress on women of child-bearing age, the sociologist, Jean McKenzie Lieper, said at the time.

Achieving work-life balance due to family pressures, of course, was a key challenge for the women interviewed.

The issues facing women were on the agenda even in one of the first issues of Law Times on Feb. 19, 1990. A story on the front page that day noted a study by the Law Society of Upper Canada that found women represented only one-fifth of Ontario’s 18,068 lawyers despite a significant increase in the number of them entering the profession during the previous 20 years. In addition, they represented less than eight per cent of law firm partners, according to the study.

Those facts aren’t necessarily surprising but they are sobering. What’s interesting is that we’re still discussing many of the issues related to women’s place in the legal profession. With the Justicia project and other efforts surrounding the retention of women in private practice and the law society’s return to practice working group, it’s clear that succeeding and staying in the legal profession can still be a challenge.

To be sure, there has been progress on lots of fronts. Certainly, there’s more awareness and sensitivity to the issues facing women and lots of programs tried over the years, such as career counselling and income support during parental leave, aimed at addressing them.

But what’s interesting about looking back at many of the old Law Times issues as the paper gears up to mark its 25th anniversary this year is that, on this issue and several others, a lot of things haven’t changed. When it comes to women lawyers, the idea of a career where, as McKenzie Lieper put it in 1995, “you don’t have to live your life in terms of billable hours,” is still an attractive option. It’s a reminder that, despite societal changes, we’ve maintained many of our fundamental ways of doing business, running our economy, and organizing our lives. As noted by a Law Times story on May 16, 2011, on the issues facing young women lawyers on Bay Street, they’re still dealing with “nefarious situations” due to the “dynamic that exists between men and women.”
Glenn Kauth

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