Commitment issues // News

Report offers solutions to keep women in private practice

By Precedent

On Tuesday June 3rd, 2008


Women are leaving private practice, and the Law Society is looking for solutions. Benchers Laurie Pawlitza and Bonnie Warkentin, co-chairs of the Law Society’s working group on the retention of women in private practice, have been criss-crossing the province to consult with members on this issue. They’ve hosted dinners for managing partners, held meetings with law associations, and conducted town halls from London to Thunder Bay.
Scales of justice statuesAccording to the working group’s recent findings, women leave private practice two to three times as often as men, and only 28 percent of lawyers in private practice are women. The report recommends that firms with more than 25 lawyers participate in a three-year Justicia Pilot Project to advance and retain women. Participating firms will collect demographic information, provide parental leaves and flexible work arrangements, encourage networking, provide mentoring, and place women in leadership positions.

The report recognizes that women who are sole practitioners, or who are working in small firms, face different obstacles. “It is not uncommon for a woman in a small firm to take a one-week mat leave,” Warkentin said when addressing a Toronto town hall meeting in April. Perhaps the most controversial proposal put forward in the report is a recommendation to support these women with parental leaves at a fixed rate of $3,000 a month for three months in order to help defray some of the costs of maintaining a practice in their absence. It also recommends establishing practice locums to help new parents find lawyers to keep their practice running while they take a leave.

While Pawlitza encountered a few women who raised objections to the proposal, she was generally impressed with how warmly the idea was received. “The recommendations that went out for consultation were so overwhelmingly positively received, we really don’t have anything significant that we are going to change…” she says. “Everyone is anxious to take advantage of the momentum and discussion that’s been generated.”

Pawlitza says firms can expect to receive formal invitations to sign on to the Justicia project early this month. Ten firms have already signed on in principle.

Precedent will be keeping track of the Justicia participants. Follow along at