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Alison talks Women in Law to AdvocateDaily

October is National Women’s Small Business Month, dedicated to celebrating the contributions and successes of our nation’s women small business owners. However, although Canadians are the most active women entrepreneurs in the world, that’s not yet the case in law.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), Canada has seen a surge of entrepreneurship in our economy over the last 20 years, and women have been at the forefront, launching businesses at rates that often outpace men; and Canadian women cite opportunity as the highest motivator. Women are more confident than ever, too, according to the GEM Canada study: “Four out of five women said they felt well prepared and capable of running a business.”

While female lawyers have been graduating from law school and entering the law profession in large numbers for over the past three decades, they have not advanced at nearly the same rate as men in the practice of law. More specifically, there has not been a proportional growth of women in leadership positions at law firms or running their own firms and, in fact, many women leave law altogether.  For example, many of the plaintiff personal injury firms continue to be male dominated or at least are being run by male lawyers/partners.

Even though female lawyers are highly successful advocates and very skilled at resolving disputes, they often question how the profession can be a manageable career for themselves. When speaking with other female lawyers within the city, I found that the impact of children and other family responsibilities, male-centered social norms, outdated law firm cultures and “face time”, and the short-term business focus of many firms, among other factors, contribute to this disparity.

Despite the mass exit of women from the legal profession, female lawyers still want a career in law.   Some women are seeking very high growth within a law firm, some are seeking to run small practices and cater to select clients, while others are more interested in flexible work hours to balance family obligations. These are all different ways of contributing to law and the economy and should be supported within our profession.

Although I have only had my firm open for a few short months, it has been a rewarding experience both professionally and personally, and I would offer this advice to anyone just entering the legal profession, thinking of leaving it or starting their own practice:

  • Set short term and long term financial, professional and personal goals: Your goals within law and in life outside of law are unique and not necessarily the same as the lawyer working next to you.  Figure out what your goals are now and in the future and make a plan that can meet as many of those goals as possible.
  • Find a mentor (or two): Find a mentor, in law, who you know could guide you along your new path.   For women, this does not necessarily mean finding another female lawyer as your mentor, as there may not be one in your practice or geographical area.  Select a lawyer that you see as a person that emulates the kind of practice and work/life balance that you want to achieve and that can be assessable to you when you need advice.
  • Surround yourself with of a supportive network: You can help avoid or manage stress overload by making sure you have a network of friends, family and colleagues you can connect with and lean on.  Having people with whom you can take off your armor and from whom you can both seek and receive advice is a vital part of keeping you going every day.

Check Alison’s article on AdvocateDaily.com.