The Justicia Project was developed in Ontario by the Law Society of Upper Canada in 2008 as a partnership between the law society and law firms to work collaboratively to share best practices, develop resources and adopt proactive programs to support the retention and advancement of female lawyers in private practice. The Project was driven by recognition that, while women are entering the legal profession and private practice in record numbers, the statistics across the country show that they also leave private practice in disproportionate numbers. Saskatchewan’s demographics are not unlike those of the rest of Canada: although a recent study conducted at the University of Saskatchewan revealed that 49% of law students are women, only 37% of the active lawyers in Saskatchewan are women. Further, of those women, only 53% are in private practice, as compared to 71% of male lawyers.
The Saskatchewan Justicia Project was introduced in November of 2014. The Law Society asked for volunteers from large firms in Regina and Saskatoon to participate in working groups that would develop guidelines and/or model policies on topics of their choosing. Members of 14 Saskatchewan law firms volunteered to develop resources for the Project and four working groups were established, focussing on the following topics: family leave, flexible working arrangements, mentorship/work environment and data collection.
The data collection working group designed and conducted two surveys of the membership. The first was directed at firms and focussed on finding out about the types of policies – particularly those respecting the topics chosen by the other working groups – that Saskatchewan firms currently have in place. The second was a survey that was sent to all members of the Law Society and focussed on the three topics chosen by the Saskatchewan Justicia Project participants.
The survey results were used by the other Justicia Project working groups to guide the resources they developed, but these results can be used to inform further work as well, whether by the profession or the Law Society. The Justicia Committee will use the results to identify areas where further work might be necessary, and Saskatchewan firms and other legal work places are also encouraged to use the results of these surveys to identify areas which may need improvement in their own work places.
The remaining working groups have been drafting guidelines and model policies relating to their chosen topics that aim to support the retention of both men and women in private practice. While the Justicia Project was started as an initiative focussing on retaining and supporting women in private practice, the Saskatchewan participants felt that the topics they were focussing on could apply to men as well.
The ultimate goal of the Justicia Project is to create better work arrangements for both lawyers and firms. Having clear guidelines on these important topics facilitates openness and creates more certainty and predictability which should, in turn, foster long-term working relationships. Implementing the resources developed through the Justicia Project can help firms to develop proactive programs respecting career development which can help them to both recruit and retain lawyers.
All Saskatchewan firms and other legal workplaces are encouraged to review the guidelines and model policies on the Law Society website and consider implementing parts or all of them. Firms that commit to either implement the materials developed by the Saskatchewan Justicia Project or review their existing policies to ensure that they are substantially similar to the model policies developed by the Saskatchewan Justicia Project will be permitted to identify themselves as Justicia Firms. More resources are being developed with respect to mentorship and work environment, and further initiatives may take place once those materials are complete. Please contact Barbra Bailey at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on becoming a Justicia Firm.