The workplace has been unfair to the women practicing in criminal law. As an unsurprising consequence, an alarming number of women have been leaving their practice due to the inequality in pay, benefits, and respect.
According to a report released by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA) at a conference in Ontario, a woman working as a criminal lawyer in Toronto and other parts of the country are likely to have a low pay, lack benefits, and to be treated differently than their male counterparts when in the field. This includes judges, police, and other related positions. Female lawyers gave examples of how judges would respond negatively to their requests for some time to pick their children up, while reactions were quiet different if the requests came from male lawyers.
The CLA vice president Breese Davies stated that the released report served as incontestable data for something that most are already aware. Surveys and focus groups showed that a large number of women quit criminal law after a mere five years and past ten years, only a small number remains to still be practicing. Among those who were surveyed was an alarming sixty per cent who are already considering quitting their private practice for better work hours, compensation, and benefits as government workers and Crown prosecutors. Maternity benefits are of special concern to women in criminal law private practice. A short leave could have devastating effects not only on finances, but also on the career in its entirety. Clients will most likely hire a replacement to handle their legal concerns for them.
The CLA report suggested some solutions that attempt to address the wide range of concerns that female lawyers in private practice have to contend with. For the maternity concern, the suggestion is providing better support for those who need to take their maternity leaves. The lengthy and unstable work hours should be ameliorated by improving the processes of the courts for more efficiency and more fixed hours. Judges and court staff are suggested to undergo education and sensitivity training programs to address behavior towards female lawyers. One other important recommendation is the mentorship program the senior female lawyers could provide for their junior counterparts.
The private practice of a criminal lawyer in Toronto and in the rest of the country is not easy. It is all the more difficult for the women, whose participation is essential in ensuring that there is appropriate representation towards reflecting the diversity of the community and society.