I noticed it first this past summer when I attended the joint International Journal of Clinical Legal Education – Association for Canadian Clinical Legal Education conference in Toronto. It was my first time attending and I had no idea what to expect.
What I found was a group of very smart, dedicated and focused academics and lawyers engaged in the field of clinical legal education. What I noticed was that the gender balance among conference attendees was weighted heavily in favour of women.
Upon returning to the office after the conference, I looked around at our summer students – 5 female and 1 male. I then recalled noticing there were only a few male applicants for those positions and many more female applicants. The legal clinic I work in is staffed by two female lawyers, a female articling student and led by a female executive director.
At the end of the summer, we received class lists for the current crop of law school interns – once again, heavily weighted toward women, although the gender balance in the law school itself is relatively even. I asked a colleague teaching a course focused on access to justice about who is in that course and learned that class is also more than 75% women.
This has me wondering, what’s going on here?
At Legal Help Centre, we work with social work practicum students as well. There is no question but that social work is a profession dominated by women so it doesn’t strike me as odd that most of our practicum students from this discipline are women.
But law is different, isn’t it? The gender gap in law that I am usually advocating to close sees more men in firm leadership and in partnership, and earning more than women in similar positions. While there may be some correlation between the gender ratio for lawyers in access to justice organizations with those in government and in-house positions, that doesn’t explain what I’m seeing in law school.
It strikes me that diversity is as important in this sector of the legal profession as it is in law firm leadership and among the judiciary, if not more so given how many of those served by access to justice service providers are already marginalized and disempowered.
I’m curious – what are you seeing across the country? Is this just an anomaly or is this happening in other law schools as well? Has anyone looked more deeply into the role of gender in law students’ selection of potential career paths? What other factors are at play here?