Knowledge Center

Women in Law in Canada and the U.S.

Data and sources for Canada and the United States.

Canada

About Half of Lawyers Who Enter the Legal Profession Are Women 

In 2014, there were 40,920 practicing women lawyers and 53,153 practicing men lawyers.1

  • For new lawyers (practicing for 0-5 years), women are in, or close to the majority in many regions.2

    • British Columbia: 50.1%

    • Ontario: 52.0%

    • Quebec (Barreau du Quebec): 62.9%

    • New Brunswick:  51.2%

    • Nova Scotia: 52.3%

    • Newfoundland and Labrador: 52.5%

  • In 2015, more women lawyers were issued licenses than men in Ontario (1,129 compared to 1,072).3

  • Overall, more women have been licensed than men in Ontario between the years 2011 and 2015 (except for 2012).4

More Women Are Educated in Law but Significantly Fewer Make it to Partner
  • Type of License in Ontario in 2014 (%)5

 

Sole Practice

Law Firm Partner

Law Firm Associate

Law Firm Employee

Legal Clinic

In-House

Women

14.4%

9.7%

17.6%

2.9%

1.9%

13.6%

Men

26.1%

23.5%

15.1%

2.5%

0.6%

10.3%

 

 

Government

Education

Retired/Not Working

Other and New Licenses

Women

18.7%

1.9%

12.3%

7.1%

Men

10.0.%

1.0%

4.8%

6.0%

  • One Ontario study found that a large percentage of both women and men with a child under 6 years of age leave private practice. (There is a 17-point drop out for women and 16-point drop out for men).6

    • As children grow older, men return to private practice but many fewer women ultimately return.7

  • Women earn 93% of men’s salaries across all stages. In the largest private firms, women earn 91% of men’s salaries.8

Visible Minority and Aboriginal Lawyers Remain Underrepresented

The representation of racialized*9 lawyers has increased, but the number does not reflect the general population.10

  • In Ontario in 2014,11

    • Racialized lawyers represented 17.6% in the profession and 26% of the Ontario population.

    • Aboriginal lawyers represented 1.5% of the profession while they represented 2.3% of the Ontario population. 

United States

Almost Half of All Law School Graduates Are Women
  • Women have been approximately half of law school graduates for the past 20 years.12

    • In 2012-2013 women made up 47.0% of J.D. students.13


  • Minority students’ J.D. enrollment has been slowly increasing over the years.14

    • In the 2013-2014 academic year, people of color made up 26.9% of J.D. students.15

Although Women Are Almost Half of All Associates, Partners Continue to Be Predominantly White Men16

Although women make up about half of all law school graduates, the number of women in entry-level positions in law firms is shrinking.17 At the lowest level since 2006, women made up 44.7% of associates in 2015.18

In 2015, women made up 34.5% of all employed lawyers.19

A disproportionately low number of women advance into the highest ranks of large firms.20

  • In 2015, white men represented about 74% of all partners.21

  • Equity partners remain disproportionately men (82.6%) in 2015.22

    • 17.4% of equity partners were women.


  • Among non-equity partners, 

    • 28.8% were women.23

    • 71.2% were men.24

Progress is Slow: Women and Men of Color Remain Underrepresented at Law Firms25

Law Firm Demographic Data26

Associates

Equity Partners

Non-equity Partners

Of Counsel

All Lawyers

White/Caucasian

75.9%

91.8%

89.4%

85.6%

83.8%

All Racial Minorities

23.5%

7.9%

10.2%

12.3%

15.7%

African-American/Black

4.2%

1.8%

2.7%

2.8%

3.1%

Asian

11.4%

3.1%

3.4%

5.0%

7.1%

Hispanic/Latino

4.8%

2.4%

3.1%

3.1%

3.6%

Multiracial

2.9%

0.5%

0.8%

1.2%

1.7%

Alaska Native/American Indian

0.2%

0.1%

0.2%

0.2%

0.2%

Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

0.1%

0.03%

0.1%

0.04%

0.1%

 

All Women

45.2%

19.5%

29.2%

39.4%

34.4%

Women of Color

13.1%

2.4%

4.3%

6.6%

7.9%

 

Openly LGBTQ

3.0%

1.7%

1.6%

1.8%

2.3%

Individuals with Disabilities

0.3%

0.3%

0.3%

0.5%

0.3%

 

  • In 2015, racial/ethnic minorities represented:27

    • 5.6% of equity partners. 

    • 9.4% of non-equity partners. 

Women Are Advancing Their Representation as Legal Chiefs in Fortune 500 Companies.28
  • In 2015, there were 120 women serving as General Counsel at Fortune 500 companies, holding 24% of those top roles.29

  • Women of color continue to lag in advancement and representation. The ratio of white women to women of color was about 5:1.30

Women Lawyers Are Paid Less Than Their Male Counterparts

In 2015, women lawyers’ weekly salary as a percentage of men lawyers’ salary was 89.7%.31

Median weekly earnings for women were $1,717 while men earned $1,914 in 2015.32

  • A 2016 survey of US and global big-firms found that men partners earned 44% more than women partners. Women partners earned an average of USD $659,000 while men partners earned average of USD $949,000.33

Additional Resources

Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers, “Executive Summary,” Best Law Firms for Women 2016 (2016).

Vault and MCAA, 2016 Vault/MCAA Law Firm Diversity Survey Report (2016).

National Association of Women Lawyers, Report of the Ninth Annual Survey by National Association of Women Lawyers (2015).

National Association for Law Placement, Diversity through Infographics: From Law School to Partnership (2016).

American Bar Association, A Current Glance at Women in the Law (2016).

 

How to cite this product: Catalyst. Quick Take: Women in Law. New York: Catalyst, April 19, 2017.