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The LSUC Retention of Women Initiative

A couple of months ago, the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) released its report on the Retention of Women in Private Practice.  It makes for an interesting read, and I recommend it.  Although most law schools now have at least 50% female students, the percentage of women associates and partners at most “Bay Street” firms remains staggeringly low.  The report emphasizes the fact that women continue to bear the lion’s share of child care responsibility in our society, and that the economics of law firms does not recognize this reality.  As a result, many women leave law firms because they find that it is not possible to maintain the necessary balance between meeting firm targets and expectations and meeting their family responsibilities.

Nothing new here, of course.  Old news.  Law firms continue to be run primarily by white men who have excelled in the very model that leaves many women behind, so there is little motivation to change things.  The report notes that the cost to law firms of a 4th year associate quiting is more than $300,000, but this is an abstract economic statistic that most lawyers don’t grasp.

While  the report places much of the blame for low female retention rates on law firm policies that are not family-friendly, it is also the case that many women get fed up with compensation and management practices (such as appointment to important firm committees) that they perceive to be unfair to women.   I can think of a useful recommendation that might have proved useful.  here it is:

All law firms with greater than, say, 20 lawyers, must publish annually a break down of gender composition of the firms’ major committees (including compensation and executive management committees, for example) and a gender breakdown of compensation levels of all associates and partners (maybe by percentile, there’s no need to disclose actual salaries and draws, just a method that would allow everyone to see how women fare relative to men)

This is information I think that prospective employees/partners should be entitled to see in order to assess the value of a job at the firm.  In fact, the standard neo-classical labour market economic model assumes this sort of information is freely available in labour markets already, so why not just put it out there.  I suspect many law firms might not like what the numbers say about the firms culture.  More importantly, this might make it difficult for the ‘bad’ firms to attract top female talent.  This might even provoke some law firms to start taking the problem seriously, since being a bad workplace for women is one thing, but being a bad workplace for women when everyone knows this, is even worse. 

The LSUC report recommends firms keep demographic information, but does not require the information to be made public (see recommendation 17).   I understand why the LSUC could not go further on this point given the need to find some sort of consensus in the legal community.  That is why sometimes the state needs to step in with disclosure regulation.  So, I hereby propose mandatory disclosure regulation of the sort I have proposed. 

Ok, which of you readers can make an argument in favour of keeping this sort of information secret?


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