women lawyers

Supporting Women in Private Practice

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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.

 

One Woman Makes a Difference – Justice Bertha Wilson (Throwback Thursday)

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The spring of 1982 was marked by two landmark events in Canadian legal history:

  • Bertha Wilson was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada as the first female Justice of the Supreme Court on March 4, and
  • The Charter of Rights and Freedoms was proclaimed into force on April 17.

Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, Bertha Wilson received a Master of Arts degree in philosophy from the University of Aberdeen in 1944 and immigrated to Canada in 1945. Wilson began to study law in the era when the legal profession was categorically male-dominated. When Wilson applied to Dalhousie Law School in 1954, Dean Horace said to her, “Madam, we have no room here for dilettantes. Why don’t you just go home and take up crocheting?” Even in 1982 when she was appointed to the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Bora Laskin advised Pierre Trudeau that there were more men deserving.

Bertha Wilson captured public attention by her decisions in cases involving human rights, ethnic and gender discrimination, and  matrimonial property. Her concurrence in R. v. Morgentaler ([1988] 1 S.C.R. 30) altered the course of Section 7 of the Charter. Until 1988, under the Criminal Code, an attempt to induce an abortion by any means was a crime. The first physician prosecuted for performing an abortion was Dr. Henry Morgentaler. Wilson’s concurring decision overturned the Criminal Code’s restrictions on abortion for violating a woman’s rights to “security of person”. In another landmark decision R. v. Lavallee ([1990] 1 S.C.R. 852), Justice Wilson authored the majority decision that accepted battered-wife syndrome in respect of a defence of self-defence to a murder charge.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin commended Wilson for being a “pioneer” in shaping the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Wilson famously posed the question, “Will women judges really make a difference?” ((1990), 28 OHLJ 507) as the title for her 4th Annual Betcherman Lecture at Osgoode Hall Law School in 1990. She concluded her lecture saying:

“If women lawyers and women judges through their differing perspectives on life can bring a new humanity to bear on the decision-making process, perhaps they will make a difference. Perhaps they will succeed in infusing the law with an understanding of what it means to be fully human.”

 

Sources:

Supreme Court of Canada: The Honourable Madam Justice Bertha Wilson (http://www.scc-csc.gc.ca/court-cour/judges-juges/bio-eng.aspx?id=bertha-wilson)

The Canadian Encyclopedia (http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/bertha-wilson/)

Kent Roach, “Justice Bertha Wilson: A Classically Liberal Judge” (https://www.law.utoronto.ca/documents/Roach/_08_Roach.Wilson.pdf)