Numbers count // Editor's Note

Women in law: the figures

By Melissa Kluger

On Thursday December 1st, 2011

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 In the fall of 2008, the Law Society embarked on an ambitious project, with the goal to advance and retain women in private practice. In addition to implementing initiatives to help women in solo and small firms, the Law Society launched Justicia — a three-year pilot project for mid-sized and large Ontario firms. Participating firms were encouraged to track gender demographics and provide mentorship, networking opportunities and flexible work arrangements for women.

The project’s three years are up. So I expected some reporting — some numbers to indicate that the project is encouraging women to stick it out in private practice. While participating firms have been given tools to keep internal demographic data, they don’t have to make that data public.

In our feature story, “Counting out loud,” writer (and Precedent’s online editor) Ryan Starr looks at gender demographic data in the profession, or rather, lack thereof. It’s been at least 10 years since women started outnumbering men in law school graduating classes and so it’s about now that women should be making partner at the same rate as men. Anecdotally, we know this isn’t happening. But we need to be able to measure whether it’s getting any better. Without metrics, commitments to advance women are empty promises.

In the U.S., any company with more than 100 employees (including law firms) is required by federal law to publicly report all kinds of demographic information. As you’ll read in our story, organizations can access this data and use it to evaluate the changing demographics of a particular firm.

Experts are predicting that Canadian firms will eventually be pressured by their hires and clients to share demographic information. But we don’t need to wait, since there is already plenty of information to go on — it just needs to be made public. Every year, we all report our status with the Law Society in our member’s annual report. That information is rich with details about our profession. When it comes to women, it can tell us how many are at private firms and the positions they hold. It can tell us who’s left to go in-house or to government. It can tell us how many women went on maternity leave and then never returned to their firms. And it can tell us if there are more women making partner than before.

Everyone knows partnership numbers will be far from equal, but even small victories can’t be measured without establishing a starting point.

The Justicia project has just been extended for another two years to allow law firms to “complete their important, ongoing work,” according to a statement from LSUC treasurer Laurie Pawlitza. By 2013, I hope there are numbers in place to measure what it is that all of this work has accomplished.

Melissa Kluger
Publisher & Editor / melissa@lawandstyle.ca


Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth