Supporting Lawyer Mothers is a Bad Thing?

Single MotherWe’ve all heard it from some of those more sharp-tongued friends of ours – all those single mothers are eroding our economy and stealing our taxes.

The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) is getting heat now for supporting single mothers of another type – sole practitioners – and also those in smaller firms.

In a unanimous vote, LSUC will increase it’s fees by a measly $5-15 per lawyer to assist mothers and fathers seeking parental leave by providing grants of $3,000 a month.

But Karen Selick of the National Post slams the program, calling it “creeping socialism” (that’s a bad thing, by the way).

She forgets that Canada is often classified as a socialist democracy, especially the structure of our health care system, which to most Canadians is our proudest symbol of nationalism.

Selick also neglects to mention that the initiative was the result of a province-wide consultation by LSUC’s Working Group on the Retention of Women in Private Practice, which included many different social and ethnic groups and firms of all sizes. LSUC heard from 900 lawyers and students and received over 55 written submissions.

But consulting, of course, is so very undemocratic.

The Working Group states,

Women have been entering the private practice of law in record numbers for over two decades. However, they have also been leaving in great numbers, largely because private practice has not adapted to their realities, such as childbirth and taking on a significant portion of family responsibilities.

Also overlooked is that the move is part of a major plan to address the issue of equity in the workplace. Other recommendations adopted include:

  • a think tank to promote retention and advancement of women in law
  • direct support for women
  • practice locums, for more leave and flex-time
  • career development resources
  • creating an advisory group
  • networking strategies for minority (Francophone, Aboriginal) women
  • a review program

But they also clearly express that this initiative begins in the law schools by preparing female law students for the realities of law.

The entire comprehensive 174-page report can be found here.

If valuable legal talent is being lost to inflexible and inadvertently discriminatory work practices, you would think this would be perceived as a progressive move.

Selick says,

What I have never understood is why anyone gives a damn whether women are leaving private practice and clustering in government or corporate jobs, or quitting entirely.
[emphasis added]

Beyond ethical and humanitarian concerns, the legal industry loses millions of dollars a year due to skilled practitioners leaving the law.

Sean WeirSean Weir of Borden, Ladner, Gervais stated in May 2006 edition of Canadian Lawyer,

We invest a lot in education and programs and do a lot of intensive training from new associates and junior partners.

So when you have a well thought out plan that will save the legal industry mega bucks, and it’s also the right thing to do, why would someone think that it’s a bad thing?

Maybe it’s because they also think that human rights laws are phony too.

h/t Sharon Kour of UWO Law


Selick justifies her stance using legal economic theory. This type of analysis is frequently used by libertarians and the far right, as they create arbitrary cost-benefit analysis that attempt to prove their position.

More recently, legal economics has become popularized by books such as More Sex is Safer Sex. The author comes to some absurd conclusions, such as it’s better for a sexually inactive person to have a fling with a more promiscuous partner and contract a STD before returning to their inactive lifestyle, because they removed the opportunity of another more active person from getting the disease and passing it on to others.

But they also come up with some quite scary policy stances, such as justifying racial profiling. The problem with legal economics is that their supporters selectively choose the facts and statistics they include in their calculations. In the case of racial profiling, for example, many other studies have demonstrating that it actually increases cost and decreases effectiveness. Legal economists rarely have scientific or statistical backgrounds.

Canada invests hundreds of millions of dollars into our publicly subsidized education system. Despite rising tuition costs, they are still relatively low compared to other nations. But this means that your tax dollars are going into funding the education of women, who are now comprising 50-60% of law school classes. By not creating a more favorable career environment, we lose the incredible investment we put into these individuals. It’s these types of figures that are conveniently overlooked by strictly utilitarian legal economists, who falsely present their arguments as as logical and well-thought out.

3 Comments on "Supporting Lawyer Mothers is a Bad Thing?"

  1. Nonsense (but what do I expect?).
    If valuable legal talent is being lost to inflexible and inadvertently discriminatory work practices, you would think this would be perceived as a progressive move.
    If so, then some other firm would be only too willing to come in and scoop up that valuable talent, no? In fact, since the market for legal talent is such an obvious instance of market failure, the writer of the article could make themselves a small fortune by correcting that failure: start your own firm, and staff it with single-mom lawyer whose valuable talent will enable you to provide services at a lower cost (or higher value / cost) than anyone else – voila; a life of wealth and ease awaits.

    So when you have a well thought out plan that will save the legal industry mega bucks…
    Why not start by getting your facts straight; it will save some firms some money – which is a different thing than saving the profession or “industry” any money – by increasing the cost for others. All-in-all, that’s a zero-sum game. It only becomes a non-zero-sum game if the retained employees create more value than the amount of the subsidy – but that value will be captured by the firms that employ them, and we know by their past actions (ie, the fact that they are unwilling to adapt their practice to retain the women in question) that their net-value creation absent a subsidy is negative.

    Ultimately, it is a ‘hire the handicapped’ response, which is (or certainly should be) a little demeaning for some of the best-educated and best-trainned members of our society. Face it: if the women in question were really that good, they wouldn’t need to impose a tax on every other professional to fund their little vanity project of being a working mother / lawyer – their employers and partners would already be doing it.

  2. lawiscool | June 14, 2008 at 8:25 am |

    We don’t believe that law is a zero-sum game, and would suggest that those that do are making our industry undesirable for both genders.

    Please see the update above.

  3. I think it’s wonderful if something can be done to assist parents wanting support on their parental leave – congrats to the LSUC! After all in our socialist democracy our govt already provides similar support to many of its employees on parental leave (supplemental employment benefits are available to many employees on maternity/parental leave – with a provision that they return to work for as many months as the supplement was received) It’s a policy that encourages many to return to jobs that they might otherwise not go back to.

    Now if the value of part-time workers could just be realized, parents would be in much better shape.

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