Women in the Legal Profession — new initiatives explored

The Women in the Legal Profession Task Force will explore several new initiatives in 2005 to help women lawyers in BC.

In a presentation to the Benchers in May, Task Force Chair Gavin Hume, QC set out a proposed work plan that would keep the Task Force busy through to the end of 2005. There are several initiatives the Task Force plans to pursue immediately, in particular a revision of the model workplace policies offered to law firms and posted on the Law Society website. The Task Force is also interested in enhancing publicity for the Equity Ombudsperson program and a review of staffing requirements on equity initiatives.

The Law Society’s equity studies of the early 1990s showed that BC women lawyers were leaving the profession in disproportionate numbers to men and that many women faced discrimination in the practice of law, difficulties accommodating work and career responsibilities and barriers to career advancement.

More recent equity studies from across Canada and in the United States reveal that these problems persist for women lawyers. The Task Force has drawn from these studies possible approaches for BC and has conducted a survey of other law societies and bar associations about their experiences, good and bad, with their equity programs. For background on the work of the Task Force, see the April-May Benchers’ Bulletin.

From its look at programs in other jurisdictions and requirements unique to BC, the Task Force has identified additional initiatives it plans to explore further, with a view to making recommendations by year-end:

  • an exit survey for BC lawyers to ascertain their reasons for leaving the profession;
  • a comprehensive mentoring program to offer guidance and support to students and newly called lawyers; and
  • a parental/maternity leave insurance program for sole practitioners.

The Task Force will also study a program of the Bar Association of San Francisco called the “No Glass Ceiling” initiative in which law firms choose to make a public commitment to supporting women lawyers, such as by having at least 25% of those at the partnership level being women and retaining men and women lawyers at approximately equal rates.