Measuring up: Women at the gates

By: September 7, 2008

More equal as associates, but partnership still elusive

The number of women who become partners at a law firm depends in part on the “tone at the top” — the attitude of the firm’s leaders — Dale Ponder says.

Ponder is managing partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. At Osler, 28.7 percent of the equity partners in Ontario are women, the highest ratio according to the new data that Precedent analyzed. Bereskin & Parr and Ogilvy Renault LLP tied for second place: at both firms, 28.6 percent of the equity partners are women, just barely behind Osler.

Asked how Osler reached the top spot, Ponder explains that the firm was “recruiting women lawyers years ago when attitudes in the outside world were not what they are today.” The firm assigns women to high-profile matters, encourages women to sit on committees, and makes sure they receive important files after returning from maternity leaves, Ponder says.

The data suggests Osler could continue to increase the number of female partners on staff. “We hire at a rate of 50 percent or more out of the law schools,” says Ponder. At Miller Thomson LLP — currently seventh on our list — women account for almost 70 percent of the total number of associates. As more female associates become partners, the firm could quickly climb the rankings.

Of course, it’s hard to predict future results, especially with women leaving private practice two to three times more often than men. A recent study by the Law Society of Upper Canada attempted to address the issues surrounding the retention of women in private practice. The report recommends that big firms offer flexible work arrangements, encourage networking, and offer mentoring opportunities for women.

“The more women you see who you can relate to,” Ponder says, the more women think, “‘I can do it too.’”

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