The Advisory: Volume 10, Issue 3, July 2012

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Justicia Project Aimed at Retaining Women Lawyers in Private Practice

By Frederica Schutz, QC, Bencher and Chair, Retention and Re-Engagement Task Force

Women have been entering the legal profession and private practice in record numbers for many years. Across the country, 50 per cent of lawyers graduating from law schools are women, yet once they enter private practice, significant numbers do not stay.

Attrition rates are notably high among women with five to seven years at the Bar. The departure of women from private practice means that the legal profession is losing a large component of its best and brightest in core areas of practice.

Recent demographic information provided to the Retention and Re-Engagement Task Force indicates that in Alberta as law firm size increases, the diversity within the firm is more likely to decrease. Additionally, the loss of women in private practice exacerbates problems with the public’s ability to access legal services, particularly in smaller communities.

In Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada launched the Justicia project in 2008. It is a voluntary program aimed at retaining women lawyers in private practice which includes written commitments by law firms to participate in the project. Law firms participating in the Justicia project have pledged their support to share best practices, develop resources and adopt programs to support women lawyers. The first of its kind, it has brought together 55 Ontario firms.

The Law Society of Upper Canada proposed the idea of extending Justicia to other jurisdictions. Justicia has now been launched by the Law Society of BC, Law Society of Manitoba, and the Barreau du Quebec.

The Task Force recommended that the Law Society implement the Justicia Project in Alberta in two phases: Phase 1 will be directed at national law firms with offices in Alberta who are already participants in Justicia in Ontario; and Phase 2 will be directed at regional, medium, small and solo firms.

On April 12, 2012, the Benchers approved Phase 1 of the Justicia Project which is a consultation and engagement plan for those national law firms who have adopted Justicia in Ontario and with offices in Alberta. Task Force members Ken Warren, Q.C. and Sandra Mah from the national law firm of Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP have volunteered their firm’s support to introduce and implement Phase 1 of the Justicia Project in Alberta and hosted a meeting to launch Phase 1 Justicia in June.

Created as an Access to Justice strategy, the Retention and Re-Engagement Task Force has been researching the issues affecting the retention and re-engagement of lawyers in the private practice of law.

The Strategic Directions Report of the Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee identified the need for a Task Force to enhance access to justice for Albertans by developing programs and policies to retain and re-engage lawyers in the private practice of law. The adoption of the Justicia Project in Alberta is in accordance with the Law Society’s Strategic Plan and in particular the goal to enhance the availability of high quality legal services in Alberta.

For further information about the implementation of the Justicia Project, please feel free to contact me directly or Susan Billington, QC, Policy and Program Counsel.

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