Will Justicia encourage women to stay in private practice?

Female lawyers continue to leave private practice at a higher rate than men. But LSUC thinks that a series of now-public Justicia resources will encourage more to stay
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Female lawyers continue to leave private practice at a higher rate than men. But LSUC thinks that a series of now-public Justicia resources will encourage more to stay
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The Law Society of Upper Canada has published a number of resources online that firms can use to retain and advance women in the law.

Included in the resources are ready-made policies regarding parental leave, pregnancy and flexible work arrangements. Until now, these policies were only available to the 57 law firms that participated in the Justicia project, which the Law Society founded in 2008 to reduce the number of women who leave private practice in the early stages of their career.

Indeed, the statistics are stark: 50 percent of law grads are women, but women make up only 35 percent of lawyers in private practice and 20 percent of partners.

And these numbers have held steady throughout the lifespan of Justicia, says Laurie Pawlitza, former LSUC treasurer who helped launch the project six years ago. That’s why, she says, these resources are so important: if women knew that their firm has a plan that will allow them them have children and maintain a career, they’ll be more likely to stay.

“Younger associates — male or female — want to have families and want time to spend with their children,” says Thomas Conway, current LSUC treasurer. He says that, until firms address this reality, top talent will continue to leave.

Plus, Pawlitza says women tend to leave private practice around the five-year mark, just after they’ve been trained and can start to bring in more money for the firm.

“The direct cost of losing an associate after training them is about $250,000,” says Conway. “You can trace it right to the bottom line.”

Both Pawlitza and Conway are not surprised that women continue to leave private firms, in large part because issues around retention have been historically neglected in the legal profession.

But they insist that over time the statistics will improve.

“I think that it’s going to take a few years before we start to see concrete changes where women are advancing in private firms, taking their parental leave and coming back and becoming leaders in their firms,” says Conway. “I think it’s going to take at least 10 years until we start seeing results.”

Earlier this week, the Law Society held a full-day symposium to discuss gender issues in the legal profession and to celebrate the release of the Justicia resources.