By Barbra Bailey, Policy Counsel
Law Society of Saskatchewan
The cover story for the summer 2018 issue of the CBA National magazine is entitled “Why women leave,” and examines what they describe as a “perennial problem” for the legal profession – women lawyers aren’t staying in private practice. 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.
In recognition of these statistics, the Law Society launched the Saskatchewan Justicia Project in 2014, which began with a survey of the profession about workplace policies and practices for lawyer retention and advancement. Respondents to the survey felt that there was a need for more mentorship and professional development opportunities for new lawyers, particularly women, as well as a need for more support for parental leaves and flexible working arrangements. The survey also revealed a high incidence of sexual discrimination and harassment in the legal profession, with 48% of women reporting having experienced sexual discrimination (being denied professional opportunities) in a legal workplace and 25% having experienced sexual harassment.
In response to these findings, volunteers from several Saskatchewan firms worked together to create resources for firms to help with the retention and advancement of women lawyers, focusing on flexible work arrangements, parental leave and mentorship. 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. For more information, please visit our website.
These resources are only one part of the solution; the CBA article points to many other considerations to help firms develop a workplace culture that fosters success for all lawyers.