February 01, 2013
Back in the 1980s and ‘90s, when television shows like Street Legal and L.A. Law were making private practice look sexy and seductive, you could hardly blame a woman for believing that life in a law firm promised endless excitement and boundless opportunity. But for those women who were bold enough to actually try it out, reality often felt like a shockingly cold shower.
No one would argue that life for women on Bay Street hasn’t come a long way… What many women do say is that it hasn’t progressed far enough fast enough, and it’s one reason women are leaving private practice at two to three times the rate of their male colleagues even though they comprise more than half those called to the bar in the last 10 years. Across Ontario, women in private law firms hold just about 21 percent of all partnerships.
As part of its plan to move things along, the Law Society launched the Justicia project, which now counts 58 law firms as members and is being adopted in four other provinces. Though not officially accountable or responsible for submitting statistics, the firms have pledged to adopt new practices that promote the retention and advancement of women. They include parental leave models, options for flex-time scheduling, and alternative paths for advancement that go beyond the conventional trajectories. Many larger Toronto firms had already initiated their own women’s working groups, but Justicia has brought the matter into the open and forced a heightened awareness on all sides.
"When I was hired as an articling student in 2001, I was one of 32 and less than half were female," says Rima Ramchandani, LLB 2001, now a partner at Torys LLP. "As time has gone by, the number of women who have left since I began has definitely outnumbered the number of men. I was the sole remaining woman in my group."
Since then, Ramchandani has been heavily involved in the recruitment and retention of women at her firm. It’s something she says Torys and others have begun to take very seriously, and not just because it’s politically correct to do so. When a talented young associate leaves a firm, the firm loses not only a valuable person, but a hefty investment worth time and money. Clients are beginning to apply pressure as well, and when the bottom line is threatened, even the most traditional operations are forced to make changes.
Read the full article here.