Women in the Legal Profession

It’s 2010. Twenty-eight years ago, Canadian lawyers helped draft the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, guaranteeing, among other things, gender equality before and under the law. Canadian lawyers have also drafted provincial and federal human rights acts, and each of the law societies’ professional regulations, all of which prohibit public, non-governmental gender discrimination.

But like the old saying goes, “If you see smoke, don’t forget to check the fire station.”

Last year some classmates and I researched the issue of gender inequality in the legal profession. We were saddened to find that it does indeed exist, though it appears to be on a belated decline.

We interviewed two law professors at the University of Windsor on the issue. Here’s what they had to say:

To get involved in this important issue in Ontario, check out the Women’s Law Association of Ontario (WLAO), which has been “Speaking out for Women Lawyers Since 1919”. Or, help spread awareness and ideas online herehereherehere or elsewhere.

And yes, “don’t forget to check the fire station” is not actually an old saying. However, once you abandon tradition you can find meaning in lots of new places.

About the Author

David Shulman
David Shulman holds a B.A.(hons.) from Queen’s University, having majored in Philosophy and minored in History. There, he founded, and was the editor-in-chief of, a successful student academic magazine called Syndicus. The magazine still publishes regularly, and has interviewed such intellectually and socially noteworthy individuals as Noam Chomsky, Arthur Erickson, and Peter Mansbridge. At present, he occasionally advises the current editors. David also holds an M.A. from École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), with a specialization in Analytic Philosophy (“PHILMASTER”). His studies and thesis focused on Philosophy of Language and Logic. He is currently a first-year law student at the University of Windsor. His interests include social justice, analytic philosophy, French language, politics, reading, writing, editing, squash, and paintballing.

3 Comments on "Women in the Legal Profession"

  1. It would be interesting to hear what the WLAO thought of the frequent misogynous postings on Lawbuzz. It is somewhat surprising that Lawbuzz was finally held accountable (ie. brought down) for it perpetual trash talk – but not by an organization representing women lawyers (the favourite topic of many Lawbuzzers what with the never-ending “hottest lawyer” contest. Does the professional bond among/between lawyers trump the notion that male lawyers ought not set up sites which frequently engage in misogynous discourse as a form of juvenile gratification.

  2. Mitch Kowalski | March 26, 2010 at 12:00 pm |

    Omar,

    What I always find troubling about these types of studies is that significant matters are ignored by the researchers.

    Women are free to choose a spouse who will share child-raising duties. If a woman chooses a spouse who does not share these duties, she has no one to blame but herself if that decision has an impact on her career. If a woman chooses to have a child without a partner, again, that is her choice and she will have to plan her career around that choice. A single father has to do the same.

    Put another way, a woman who starts her own small business faces the same issues – but that is not seen as discrimination or an equality issue.

    Being an equity partner is Biglaw is not the only definition of success in law. Women are free to start their own law firms – and they do. Women are also very well represented as law professors, in-house counsel and in government. Are these careers not success in law? If not, then why not?

    What researchers also miss is the fact that law isn’t for everyone who goes to law school. Some women and men who enter law find that they don’t enjoy the practice and they leave for other careers. The researchers do not account for this and see women who do this as being forced out of law – which is in misleading and incorrect. They also ignore the number of men who leave law for the same reason. It seems that to trumpet, “women are leaving the law in droves” has more impact.

    Some women and men, decide that they want to stay home with the kids. This, of course, is a very valid career decision and should not be used, as it often is by researchers, as showing that women are being chased from the law because of discrimination.

    What is also often assumed in the studies is that men who are equity partners in Biglaw make no sacrifices or trade-offs whatsoever to achieve that position.

    Researchers assume that a career in Biglaw for men is very easy to come by due to gender, and is stress-free without any family ramifications.

    This is clearly not correct – and insulting.

    Most male equity partners that have families, have chosen a supportive spouse (and hired a nanny) who is willing to look after the family in order to support the equity partner’s career. As I stated earlier, a woman who wants to become an equity partner can choose a similar spouse and hire a nanny. She will then have to make the same trade-offs that men do, and not spend time with her family.

    Many male equity partners rarely see their families and never have much of a life other than the practice of law. They are willing to make that trade-off. Women, it seems are less willing to make that same trade-off, and that is a valid decision – but it is not discrimination.

    Life as an equity partner is not all that it is cracked up to be and should not be seen, or used, as the epitome of success in law.

    If the researchers wish to push for lifestyle changes in the profession then those changes should be positioned as such, instead of positioning them as equality of women issues. Life style is not a gender issue – it is an issue to applies equally to all.

  3. Mitch, many men lie. They will tell you and promise the world to marry you then they become, well men.
    My ex said he would help and promised so I would have children. I became tired and exhausted. He liked the money but I still had to come and work and clean and cook. I realized I was better of without him.

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