Knowledge Center

Women in Law in Canada and the U.S.



  • In 2010, there were 22,261 practicing women lawyers and 37,617 practicing men lawyers.1*
  • For new lawyers practicing 0-5 years, in many areas, women are the majority, or close to the majority, and their numbers and percentages increased from 1998 to 2012 2:
    • Manitoba: 52.4% of the newest lawyers are women
    • Saskatchewan: 50.4%
    • Ontario: 52.3%
    • British Columbia: 51.2%
    • Barreau du Quebec: 62.1%

Flexibility in Canadian Law Firms

Catalyst conducted a nationwide survey of lawyers working in law firms across Canada and presented its findings in a series of reports. Some highlights include:

  •  28%  of the women lawyers in the study reported participating in a flexible work arrangement, compared to 21% of men.3
  • 69% of lawyers who had never used a flexible work arrangement expressed that they would like to use one, and 86% of those who had already used one stated they would like to use another.4
  • 50% of lawyers said they felt their firms were doing "poorly" or "very poorly" in their provision of flexible work arrangements.5
  • Many found it difficult to manage the demands of work and personal/family life:
    • 75% women associates, compared to 66% of men associates6
    • 69% women partners, compared to 46% of men partners7
  • When an associate leaves—potentially because of work-life tension—the average cost including investment costs (such as training and development) and separation costs is $315,000.8

Visible Minority and Aboriginal Lawyers

  • A 2010 report of lawyers in Ontario from 1971-2006 found that racialized women accounted for 16% of all lawyers under 30, compared to 5% of lawyers 30 and older in 2006.9
    • Visible minority lawyers accounted for 11.5% of all lawyers in 2006.10
    • Aboriginal lawyers accounted for 1.0% of all lawyers in 2006.11




  • In the 2012-2013 academic year, women made up 47.0% of J.D. students.12
  • In the 2012-2013 academic year, people of color made up 25.8% of J.D. students.13

  • In 2009, women were only 20.6% of law school deans.14


The Gender Gap in Law

  • In 2014, women made up 32.9% of all lawyers. 15
  • Women were 44.8% of associates in 2013.16
  • Women were 38% of all of counsels.17
  • Given the same rate of change, Catalyst estimates that it will take more than a woman lawyer’s lifetime to achieve equality.18
  • In a survey of the 50 best law firms for women,

    • 19% of the equity partners were women, 19

    • 29% of the nonequity partners were women, 20 and
    • 42% of the of-counsels were women. 21
  • According to a recent survey of law firms,

    • 96% of AmLaw firms report that their highest paid partner is male. 22

    • Lateral hiring favors men at the level of equity partner. 23

    • Women appear to be most successful in single-tier firms. 24

  • Only 24.1% of all federal judgeships were held by women, and only 27.5% of state judgeships were held by women.25

  • Women lawyers made 83.0% of men lawyers’ salaries in 2014.26
  • When women were more present on compensation and governance committess, the gender pay gap was not as wide.27


Work-Life in Law

  • At the top 50 best law firms for women, on average, women receive 15 paid weeks of maternity leave, but on average, only take 13. 28

    • Men received just six weeks paternity leave, but on average, only took three weeks. 29

    • For paid adoption leave (for the primary caregiver), on average, individuals received 12 weeks, but on average, only took five weeks of leave. 30

  • The best law firms for women have made great strides in work-life policies:

    • 100% have reduced hour policies; 31

    • 100% offer flex-time; 32

    • 10% offer job sharing; 33

    • 86% provide backup childcare at a facility. 34

Women of Color in Law

  • One Catalyst study examined the experiences of women of color at law firms, comparing their experiences to people of color’s experiences and white women’s experiences. The findings included:

    • Women of color were more likely than any other group to experience exclusion from other employees, racial and gender stereotyping.35

    • Women of color were most likely to consider leaving the firm. 36

    • Women of color cited dissatisfaction with current level of work relative to work experience, and with access to high-profile client assignments. 37

    • Women of color perceived a lack of commitment from senior leadership towards promotion of diverse candidates. 38

  • A recent study found 11.0% of associates are women of color. 39

  • Only 2.3% of partners were women of color. 40

  • In 2011, there were only 19 women of color general counsels in the Fortune 500. 41

* The Federation collects information from 10 provinces and 3 territories, with Quebec reporting separate numbers for notarial professions (Chambre des Notaires du Québec) and lawyers (Barreau du Québec). Further information about the practice of law in Canada here:; 2007 gender data for Nunavut not available.


How to cite this product: Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in Law in Canada and the U.S.. New York: Catalyst, 2015.