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Law Society of Upper Canada Seeks to Retain Women Lawyers

Like its counterpart in the USA, the Canadian bar is trying to keep women from leaving the private practice of law.  While the percentage of female attorneys working in private practice in Canada has averaged about 42 percent (compared with 60 percent of male lawyers) over the last five years, female attorneys have been leaving private practice at about two to three times the rate of their male colleagues.  That's very expensive for law firms, since the cost of turnover for a four-year associate is $315,000.

To stem this flow of legal talent out of private practice, the Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates Ontario's legal profession, has issued a number of recommendations and started the following three major initiatives that LSUC hopes will serve as a model for other jurisdictions in Canada:

  • establishing a women's institute to support women's leadership and professional development, along with working with law schools to help female law students prepare to practice law and setting up an online resource center for women lawyers;
  • promoting and supporting the use of contract lawyers through a five-year pilot project that can help lawyers maintain their practices during times they must be on leave for family or personal matters; and
  • funding parental-leave programs through additional fees for LSUC members.  This initiative--the LSUC's costliest recommendation--would offer $3,000 per month for three months to solo practitioners and lawyers in firms that have five or fewer lawyers to help them cover the expenses of maintaining their law practices during parental leave.  Lawyers who do not have access to other parental- or maternity-leave benefits will be eligible for this program.

These initiatives are new, so it is too early to measure their success.  However, by addressing the most common reason for Canada's female lawyers to leave private practice--childbirth and parenting responsibilities--hopefully, these new programs will allow more women to remain in the private practice of law as they balance their family responsibilities and professional obligations successfully.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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