“When half of your talent pool is comprised of women, there’s a danger that you’re missing out on keeping some of the best and the brightest.”
Last week we published an interview with the Right Honourable Kim Campbell. Ms. Campbell is widely known for her cabinet positions where she was the first female Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the first and only female Minister of National Defence, and the first and only female Prime Minister of Canada. As Ms. Campbell discussed in her interview, when all people in society are equally free they are able to pursue goals based on their personal interests, rather than what is conscribed by gender roles required for the survival of the species.
In today’s post we examine the current role that women have in the legal system; however, it is first necessary to examine the history behind women’s role in the legal profession. A parallel can be drawn between the women’s suffrage movement and women becoming members of the legal profession, as women were not always eligible for admission to the bar. Specifically, women first gained admission to law schools in 1891, several years after Canadian universities established permanent law schools. Further, the first female lawyers in Canada pressed for admission to the bar in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which was done concurrently with the suffrage movement. The Ontario bar admitted the first woman, Clara Brett Martin, in 1897. In 1906 in New Brunswick and in 1912 in British Columbia, after being denied admission, women unsuccessfully challenged the provincial bar associations in the courts. Shortly after these court cases, both provinces amended their legislation to allow women to be admitted to the bar and to practice law.
Today, law schools across Canada show that women and men are entering and graduating from law schools at an approximately equal rate. The Law Society of Upper Canada estimated that women accounted for more than 50% of law school graduates during the 2000s. However, women tend to leave private practice earlier than men. For example, a recent CBC Radio interview explored the major reason that female criminal lawyers leave private practice: discrimination.
However, in a casual conversation with a female partner at a mid-size Edmonton-area law firm, I discovered a positive trend. In this particular firm, though the equity partners are almost all men, lawyers at the associate-level are almost all women. Without any direct intention to create more diversity among the lawyers, the lawyers involved in the hiring process noticed that women who applied to this firm simply tended to stand out above men who applied. On the lack of gender bias in their hiring practices, the partner joked that they almost need to start focusing on hiring men at the associate level.
It is certainly encouraging that some law firms are equally impressed with the qualifications and achievements demonstrated by men and women graduating from law school, and that diversity can be well represented among junior lawyers. But what about senior lawyers, who greatly contribute to the legal community as they have a significant number of years of experience? The following quotation from a law professor at York University in Toronto discusses the relevant statistics:
[In the United States, w]omen comprise only about 15% of equity partners and 26% of non-equity partners, even though 46% of law firm associates are women. Among equity partners, women make about 89% of men. The gap in [median] compensation of male and female equity partners cannot be explained by differences in billable hours, total hours, or books of business. Women are vastly underrepresented on the powerful governance committees that make key firm decisions: they hold only 20% of the positions on those committees. Only 4% of law firms have female managing partners. Seventy percent of in-house counsel jobs are held by women.
Specifically, in Canada:
- In 2010, there were 22,261 practicing women lawyers and 37,617 practicing men lawyers.
- For new lawyers practicing 0-5 years, in many areas, women are the majority, or close to the majority, and their numbers and percentages increased from 1998 to 2012
- Manitoba: 52.4% of the newest lawyers are women
- Saskatchewan: 50.4%
- Ontario: 52.3%
- British Columbia: 51.2%
- Barreau du Quebec: 62.1%
Further, the Justicia Project examines diversity and attrition rates among lawyers. Developed in Ontario, the initiative has spread to other provinces in Canada. The Law Society of Upper Canada cites that 38% of lawyers are women, but 60% of lawyers leaving private practice are women. The Law Society of Alberta reports “that in Alberta as law firm size increases, the diversity within the firm is more likely to decrease.” In British Columbia, women comprise 67% of lawyers in private practice while men comprise 82%. The chart pictured at the top of this post, although referencing data from 1995, provides a visual illustration of the staggering differences between male and female lawyers across different age brackets. This graph is also significant because it shows the disparity between lawyers, workers who have a degree other than in law, and the working population in general. Moreover, it demonstrates that while women comprised approximately 50% of lawyers entering practice twenty-one years ago, today women are still not in equal representation as equity partners.
The Law Society of Upper Canada notes that an overwhelming reason that women leave private practice jobs is to achieve a “work-life balance”, especially when women have young children. In our modern economy, it can be financially challenging for two-parent families to allow one parent to stay at home to raise the children, which is a full-time non-paying job. However, due to personal choices among families and arguably also due to the structure of our gender-stereotyped culture, mothers tend to be the parents who elect to reduce time at an out-of-home paid job in favour of spending more time in the home to care for their children. For lawyers, this sometimes includes switching from a time-demanding, private practice in a large firm to in-house counsel positions or government legal positions. Often, these latter types of jobs offer lawyers a work schedule that is more predictable and more manageable in relation to the needs of their families.
Equal representation among lawyers with diverse qualities, interests, and backgrounds is a challenge recognized by the Canadian Bar Association and provincial law societies. While no one should dictate what personal career choices a person makes, the Law Society of Upper Canada asserts that “we need to make sure [lawyers] don’t leave [private practice] because of gender-related issues.” Part of the reason that women’s suffrage and related equality issues was chosen as the topic for our Ms. Suffragette blog is due to the recognition that there are issues which some lawyers face that other lawyers do not. Gender discrimination is one of these issues. With discourse, awareness, and diverse engagement on issues that law students and lawyers face, we can further deconstruct discrimination and create a more fairly representative community among lawyers. Achieving diversity and equality among lawyers, law professors, and judges will help reflect the reality of diversity in our society, and can better inform the legal community of society’s values.
 Ann Macaulay, How to Retain Top Female Talent, and What Women Should Look for in a Law Firm, The Canadian Bar Association, 10 October 2014 (online): <https://www.cba.org/Publications-Resources/CBA-Practice-Link/Young-Lawyers/2014/How-to-Retain-Top-Female-Talent,-and-What-Women-Sh> [Macaulay].
 The Right Honourable Kim Campbell, “Accomplishments” (online): <http://www.kimcampbell.com/node/26> [Campbell].
 Mary Jane Mossman, “The First Women Lawyers: ‘Piecemeal Progress and Circumscribed Success’”, Osgoode Hall Law Journal vol 45, no 2 (online): <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1645369>.
 Macaulay, supra note 1; Federica Schutz, QC, “Justicia Project Aimed at Retaining Women Lawyers in Prive Practice”, The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 3, July 2012, Law Society of Alberta (online): <http://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/advisory_2012/advisory_volume_10_issue_3_Jul2012/news/justicia.aspx> [Schutz].
 Trisha Crawford, “Women lawyers leaving in droves”, Toronto Star Newspapers, 11 February 2011 (online): <http://www.thestar.com/life/2011/02/25/women_lawyers_leaving_in_droves.html> [Crawford].
 Maureen Brosnahan, “Women Leaving Criminal Law Practice in Alarming Numbers”, CBC/Radio-Canada, 7 March 2016 (online): <http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/women-criminal-law-1.3476637>.
 David Doorey, “Women’s Situation Not Improving in Law Firms, But I (Still) Have a Plan”, Doorey’s Law of Work blog, 7 March 2016 (online): <http://lawofwork.ca/?p=5727#sthash.ooej3vaa.dpuf> [Doorey], emphasis added. Please note this refers to USA statistics; Dr. Doorey does estimate that they are similar to Canadian statistics.
 "Women in Law in Canada and the US", Knowledge Center, 3 March 2015, Catalyst Inc (online): <http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-law-canada-and-us>.
[10.1] "Statistical Snapshot of Lawyers in Ontario", The Law Society of Upper Canada (online): <http://www.lsuc.on.ca/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=2147488150>.
 Macaulay, supra note 1.
 Crawford, supra note 7.
 Macaulay, supra note 1.
 Ibid.; Crawford, supra note 7.
 Abdul Rashid, Chart: “Earnings of Lawyers”, Perspectives, Statistics Canada, 2000 (online): <http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/75-001-x/2000001/4886-eng.pdf>.
 Crawford, supra note 7.