After a closed-door meeting on November 22, 2012, our Benchers decided to keep the Parental Leave Assistance Program (PLAP), previously discussed on SLAW here
But there are caveats, the first being that the PLAP pilot project has only been extended for the purposes of consultation with stakeholders. Secondly, the PLAP eligibility criteria is now modified by a means test where the applicant must have a net annual practice income of less than $50,000 to be eligible.
The Equity Committee, who reported to our Benchers on November 22, 2012, indicated that the proposed $50,000 means test model would result in a reduction of costs to the LSUC between $180,000 and $230,000 per year, from its current operating budget of about $400,000. Funding comes from our LSUC dues and amounts to $9 per year per lawyer. As Breese Davies, criminal defence lawyer and advocate extraordinaire, commented to CBC, “(the current program cost per lawyer is) less than two lattes…. the retention of women is worth at least $400,000 in membership fees.” Read more of her comments here
To justify its recommendations to Convocation, the Equity Committee provided an overview of key findings about PLAP to our Benchers, which can be viewed here
Of the 30 PLAP recipients interviewed, all but 4 women indicated that their spouse worked and had an income. All women with working spouses indicated that they had a household income of more than $84,000, usually ranging between $100,000 and $300,000, or what we might characterize as healthy household incomes. Additionally, all of the men who received PLAP indicated that their spouses were in receipt of maternity leave benefits during the leave. Which begs the obvious question – did the four women without any partners or other sources of income have the same practice needs and personal experiences as the other, seemingly well-heeled, PLAP recipients?
A brief, almost off-handed finding in the Equity Committee's report stated that the client bases of PLAP recipients were in the middle and low income levels (at $75,000 annual income per household or less), which the Equity Committee endorsed as proof that the program successfully assists in the promotion of access to justice.
When PLAP was first implemented as a three-year pilot project, LSUC believed it would encourage practitioners to join small firms or set up sole practices where they might otherwise be discouraged to do so because of the financial implications of taking parental leaves. That motive appears to have fallen off the table with the LSUC’s lukewarm commitment to merely consult further about PLAP, without examining real differences amongst actual (and potential) recipients, and while limiting it to practitioners with a net income below $50,000 (not an income to aspire to, although certainly a practical reality for many small practitioners). What we need from the LSUC is a firm commitment to a small insurance program that some lawyers desperately need, and that many clients will undoubtedly benefit from. Quit it with the platitudes.