The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2012

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Executive Director’s Report

Retention and Re-Engagement of Lawyers in Private Practice of Law a Key Focus of Law Society

By Don Thompson, QC, Executive Director, Law Society of Alberta

Support ing the retention of women lawyers and lawyers from diverse backgrounds in the private practice of law is a key focus of the Law Society.

Understanding the changing demographics among lawyers enables the Law Society to be aware and proactive in developing policies and programs to support lawyers. The information gathered annually through its fee billing enables the Law Society see trends occurring, and to be proactive.

This past March, the Law Society gathered lawyer information and statistics through its annual form which accompanies the fee billing. Information about aboriginal ancestry, sexual orientation and representation in the profession is vital to the work of the Benchers and Law Society. These demographics inform policies around recruitment, retention and reengagement of lawyers in the practice of law.

This information helps the Law Society to create better supports for sole practitioners and small firm lawyers who provide most of the personal legal services, thus enhancing access to justice for Albertans.

Also, the Law Society notes the number of lawyers who are called to the bar against the number of practising lawyers to determine the attrition rates. The attrition rates are generally higher for women than for men. For example, Law Society data shows that for lawyers admitted to the Bar in Alberta in 2005, 58 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men were no longer in the private practice of law in Alberta.

We see from statistics that a proportionally higher number of women leave the practice of law, and we have information from surveys which provide the reasons why.

Policy Department Manages Research to Better Understand Trends

The Policy and Research group manages policy development and related research for the Law Society, particularly special projects and initiatives such as the Retention and Re- Engagement Task Force. It undertakes surveys and data gathering such as exit surveys and smaller community surveys to better understand trends around key issues such as retention and re-engagement of lawyers in the practice of law. The work of the Policy group is undertaken by Director Michael Penny, QC; Policy and Program Counsel Susan Billington, QC; and Staff Governance Lawyer Nicole Woodward.

Equity Ombudsperson Provides Vital Supports

The Equity Ombudsperson, Jocelyn Frazer, provides vital supports for women lawyers and lawyers of diverse backgrounds. The Office of the Equity Ombudsperson was established to provide confidential advice, information and assistance to lawyers, articling students and support staff working in the legal profession on issues of discrimination or harassment by lawyers.

The Ombudsperson’s goal is to educate people working in law firms about policies that promote equity, equality, and diversity in the workplace, and to prevent any related problems. Equity issues are part of good management practices. She serves law firms and lawyers by:

  • assisting them to establish workplace policies regarding harassment, parental leave, and alternative work schedules;
  • providing educational seminars about discrimination and harassment;
  • talking confidentially about particular problems;
  • discussing complaints and addressing issues;
  • developing an understanding of the firm’s obligations, potential liability options; and
  • finding information on other resources, such as counselling;
  • practice management support; and
  • promote use of technology for alternate work arrangements.

Most of the Law Society’s programs, policies and supports are available online through our website.

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