Something has been bothering me lately about the discussions about the future of the legal profession. Maybe you’ve noticed it too? Where are the voices of women in this discussion?
There are a few of us paying attention to the issues but on the whole, I’d say women lawyers are not speaking up about what changes they’d like to see for the future of their profession.
Of course, we know that many women lawyers leave private practice early in their careers. I recently heard Allan Fineblit, CEO of The Law Society of Manitoba say that half of women lawyers are not in private practice in Manitoba after just 5 years at the Bar. The gender-breakdown statistics for Manitoba lawyers are set out in The Law Society of Manitoba’s 2013 Annual Report:
There were 1985 lawyers with active practising status in Manitoba as of December 31, 2012, of which 1280 or 64.5% were men and 705 or 35.5% were women. Of those women in active practice, 52% were engaged in private practice with the remaining 48% employed in corporate, government (including Legal Aid) and educational endeavours. Of the men in active practice, 74% were engaged in private practice and 26% in corporate, government and educational endeavours.
Of the women who currently represent just 35% of practising lawyers in Manitoba, 45% are within their first 10 years at the Bar and nearly 60% are within their first 15 years since call.
I’ve posted here previously about how the exodus of women from private practice might serve as an alert to the fact that something needs to change in the private practice model.
More recently, I’ve been wondering why it is that many of those who have left that model behind are not engaging in the current discussions about where the practice of law is headed. I suspect these women have strong opinions and good ideas about what needs to change. I’m also not hearing the voices of more recently called lawyers, although I appreciate that the pressures of the early years of practice may make it especially challenging to form an opinion, never mind to find time to weigh in.
But this is, it seems to me, the perfect moment to “lean in” and speak out about what it is that drives women out of legal practice, and even more importantly, what could be different so that more women will remain in the practice of law. At this time, when there is a growing understanding that change is not only inevitable but coming at an accelerating rate, when there is a call for innovative approaches that better meet the needs of both clients and their lawyers, there is also an incredible opportunity for women lawyers to step forward to drive and lead this process.
The choice is available to every lawyer, whether content or dissatisfied with the status quo in our profession – we can react and respond to the waves of change swelling around us or we can jump aboard and influence the direction the wave takes. I remain hopeful that more of my “sisters-in-law” will hop aboard.