Women driven to quit law firms: top judge

Thursday, August 12 2010

Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service

Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2007

CALGARY -- Talented female lawyers are leaving law firms in droves because their profession is largely an "Edwardian male-dominated" one that demands long hours and the 100 per cent devotion that many mothers are unable to give, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada said in a paper distributed at a legal conference Tuesday.

There is also a wage gap, as there is in other professions, and women have not been rewarded with responsibilities similar to their male counterparts with equivalent experience, said the paper, prepared for a Canadian Bar Association panel on women lawyers.

Referring to a "systemic exodus" of women from private practice, the chief justice also blamed the problem on a culture that still places the main burden of child rearing on women's shoulders.

"When experienced, talented women leave a business because it does not allow for a better balance, there is a real cost to the organization," the paper said.

McLachlin cited a 2005 study pegging the cost of an associate's departure from a law firm at $315,000, based on the investment costs, such as recruitment and training, and the severance costs.

Moreover, she said, there is a loss of diversity and talent that affects the profession and society as a whole.

To that end, the profession must allow more flexible arrangements, such as working from home, for both mothers and fathers during their child-raising years."We should develop a corporate culture that accepts sabbaticals and part-time work and acknowledge that long hours do not necessarily equate to quality and productivity," she said.

In a speech, McLachlin added that women are being hindered by law firms' "strict, inflexible business model" that focuses on the bottom line.

A November 2006 study by Catalyst Canada, a corporate research and advisory organization, reported that only one-quarter of lawyers in private practice have had flexible work arrangements, including working from home, flexible hours, or part-time employment.

The survey of more than 1,400 Canadian lawyers found that more than half of the female lawyers believed that their arrangements were a career-limiting move, making them appear less committed to their firms.

Only 22 per cent rejected the premise that a lawyer who took advantage of flexible arrangements would automatically be relegated to "the B team."

© The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2007

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