Manpower // Editor's Note

Law firm policies continue to change to accommodate women. But those changes benefit men, too

By Melissa Kluger

On Tuesday December 1st, 2009

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Melissa KlugerDear men: You might think this issue of Precedent is not about you. Our feature story is about women and maternity leave. The story has just one man in it and he plays only a supporting role. But I want to assure you that this is a story about you.

“O mother, where art thou?” focuses on women for a reason. It has been a year since over 50 large- and medium-sized firms signed on to the Law Society’s Justicia pilot project aimed at helping to stem the tide of women leaving private practice. In light of this anniversary, we wanted to see what types of initiatives are now in place and to evaluate the progress that has been made.

Our writer, Crystal Luxmore, met with many women in private practice. She learned about how they balance work and family, and how their firms handle mat leaves and help new moms transition back to work. The story raises questions about where our profession still falls short and explores what more should be done to support women in private practice. At the same time, there is no doubt that women have come a long way. Not that long ago, women were scarce in our profession. Today, they make up over 50 percent of law school classes and are swelling the associate ranks at Canada’s biggest and most prestigious firms.

It’s true that the Law Society of Upper Canada formed a task force on the retention of women in private practice (the Justica project is just one of the outcomes). While the task force has shone a spotlight on some serious problems, its very creation is a positive sign. It means the profession as a whole recognizes that the high turnover of women is serious enough to warrant a task force to study the issue and make recommendations.

This progress is not for women alone. As women join firms in growing numbers and move into senior positions, workplace culture is changing. Maternity leave policies have become commonplace in most law firms, and flextime and part-time work arrangements are also on the rise. These changes can benefit men, too, if they choose to take advantage.

And I hope they do.

In the Retention of Women in Private Practice Working Group’s final report, the authors note that, “the true hallmark of a successful flexible schedule policy will be the willingness of men to utilize these opportunities.”

As men take advantage of paternity leaves and alternative work arrangements, the policies that women ushered in will be normalized and strengthened. Instead of being perceived as accommodations begrudgingly bestowed upon women who have burdened the firm with their decision to procreate, such measures will become an acceptable and encouraged part of law firm culture. Both women and men will benefit as a result.