Opening the Kimono?

There are few things more secret within lawfirms than the process of determining equity partnership admission and partner compensation. Even if there are disputes they’re handled behind closed doors or in the leak-proof process of arbitration. There are only a handful of reported cases on such issues involving the largest firms.

Which makes the travails of McCarthy Tétrault particularly newsworthy – although the reactions of many managing partners may well be to thank the relevant deity that it wasn’t their firm.

A former McCarthy Tétrault lawyer is suing the firm for $12 million dollars over an equity partnership admission dispute.

Ontario Master Ronna Brott of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice (Commercial List) ordered that the plaintiff, Diane M. LaCalamita and her counsel, should have access to the confidential personnel files (salaries, billing rates, performance reviews and other highly confidential information, but with names and other identifiable information removed) of lawyers with eight-plus years seniority in the intellectual property group, in the relevant period of 2003 to 2006. That and an internal report on women’s issues at the firm prepared by Catalyst, a consultant that advises on feminist issues in the workplace.

In a second order, Master Brott ordered additional information to be released, while limiting some of the material that an overly broad request had sought. The firm was prepared to provide detailed statistics on the year of call and billable hours for the intellectual property group, the compensation structure for income and equity partners nationally and the male-female ratio for lawyers admitted to equity partnerships, all for the 2003 to 2006 time period. Master Brott denied information for the period before 2003, saying it was too broad, but she ordered the release of national information, saying that restricting the data to the intellectual property group would be limiting. For performance reviews, Master Brott cut back the plaintiff’s demands and ordered the release of Canada-wide data for all those lawyers who sought to become income or equity partners and who were called to the Bar in the mid-1990s. And McCarthys must produce compensation data for every lawyer in the Toronto office, with information on gender, rank and year of call from 2003 to 2006.

The story hit the American Lawyer daily newsfeed today, the Lawyers’ Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Post‘s blog, Daniel Lublin’s blog and the Canadian Lawyer.

Legally the claim is a longshot, but it’s being aggressively pleaded. The lawsuit is about a lot more than money,with unprecedented allegations of sexism being bandied about.

The case will be followed with keen attention.


  1. Law students have been watching this case with keen interest since it broke as well, though few are willing to publicly express their views due to potential job prospects.

    Although I would agree with Dublin that it’s unlikely to go anywhere, the negative publicity might be just what’s needed for change to occur. A few people have noted a number of programs related to gender issues that the firm has taken on, including the LSUC retention of women working group.

    I have heard from (anonymous) prominent law bloggers that that this probably won’t bode well for her long-term career prospects. But that’s assuming that she hasn’t been turned off from that type of career track as it is.

    What I find interesting is that the firm was one of the first to allow women into the practice. Whether they’ve lagged behind in development since is something none of us will probably never really know.

  2. Correction

    In its September 11, 2009 issue and on its website, The Lawyers Weekly published an article concerning McCarthy Tétrault and a lawsuit between it and one of its former partners. The story contained inaccurate statements about the contents of a report which McCarthy Tétrault commissioned, and which it produced in that litigation. The article has been removed from The Lawyers Weekly website. The Lawyers Weekly acknowledges that the Catalyst Report made no finding that there was evidence that McCarthy Tétrault discriminated against its female staff. We also acknowledge that the report made no finding that there appeared to be evidence of gender bias, as stated in the article.
    The Lawyers Weekly regrets the error.