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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Lawyers State Their Case on Job Flexibility

New Catalyst Canada study on law firms spotlights work life challenges - Majority See Flexible Work Arrangements as Career Limiting

A new Catalyst Canada study released today, Beyond A Reasonable Doubt: Lawyers State Their Case on Job Flexibility, reveals that while approximately one in four lawyers in law firms report having used a flexible work arrangement, the majority of those surveyed see it as a career limiting move. More than half of the female lawyers surveyed believed that their use of flexible work arrangements limited their professional development and made them appear less committed to their firms, versus 21 per cent of men who used the same arrangements.

In the study, based on a survey of more than 1,400 lawyers across the country and sponsored by ten leading Canadian law firms, Catalyst focused on Canadian lawyers’ experiences and perceptions of a range of available flexible work arrangements and explored lawyers’ attitudes on the topic. This is the third of three Catalyst reports to provide insight into lawyers’ perceptions and experiences of work life balance in Canadian law firms.

“The law firms who have the vision to realize that lawyers with different working styles can be just as effective as those who follow more traditional work patterns are the firms who will attract and keep the best legal talent on the street,' said Deborah Gillis, Catalyst Canada Executive Director.

Among the study’s key findings:

  • More lawyers said they had opted for full-time rather than part-time flexible work arrangements (FWAs).
  •  Telecommuting and flextime were the most popular types of flexible work arrangements among lawyers. However, roughly one in three lawyers said they had chosen to work fewer hours for reduced compensation.
  • Even though many lawyers report using a FWA, most still perceive them to be career limiting. Just one in five (22 per cent) said they didn’t believe that a lawyer who took advantage of flexible arrangements would automatically be sent to “the B team.”
  • A majority of lawyers, both users and non-users, said they didn’t believe that a lawyer who went on either full- or part-time FWAs could ever become partner.
  • More than half of lawyers felt their firms did not adequately provide flexible work arrangements.
  • Nearly three-quarters of associates said partners must be encouraged to accept that lawyers with different working styles can be effective and successful.

Lawyers who took part in the survey and subsequent focus groups were asked what must happen for the current situation to change.Their answers fell into three main categories:

  • Make the business case for flexibility. Two-thirds of those surveyed said that before law firms begin to see flexible work arrangements as worthwhile and important, they need bottom-line evidence supporting their feasibility and viability.
  • Work to change and expand the definition of what makes a “successful” lawyer. That means law firms, and lawyers themselves, must realize and accept that lawyers with different working styles can be just as effective as those who follow more traditional work patterns
  • Change attitudes about gender, parenthood and job flexibility. Most lawyers surveyed said that a broader perspective on gender roles – i.e., that job flexibility is important to both women and men, regardless of parental status – is vital if flexible work arrangements were to be successfully implemented at their firms. Many women lawyers said flexible work arrangements will not be widely implemented until more women are hired or promoted to partnership positions where they can play a greater role in decision-making.

Catalyst will be developing a supplemental online resource addressing the question: “What steps can law firms take towards providing optimal job flexibility?”

A Note on The Flexibility in Canadian Law Firms Series

The Flexibility in Canadian Law Firms series is Catalyst’s contribution to law firm’s efforts to address work life balance issues among their lawyers. More than 1400 lawyers in law firms across the country participated in the Catalyst Survey.

The first report in the series, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Building the Business Case for Flexibility (March 2005), analyzed the work-life balance perceptions and challenges faced by law firm associates and then calculated the financial impact of losing top legal talent using standard cost accounting methods.

The second report in the series, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Creating Opportunities for Better Balance (November 2005) revealed that nearly two-thirds of all lawyers in law firms reported difficulty managing the demands of work and personal/family life. The report showed how firms could begin to address work-life balance issues without sacrificing their business goals.

The study’s 10 sponsoring firms are:


Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP
McCarthy Tétrault LLP
Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
McMillan Binch LLP
Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP
Ogilvy Renault
Goodmans LLP
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP
Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP
Torys LLP

About Catalyst

Catalyst is the leading research and advisory organization working to advance women in business, with offices in New York, San Jose, Toronto and Switzerland. As an independent, not-for-profit membership organization, Catalyst uses a solutions-oriented approach that has earned the confidence of business leaders around the world. Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women’s career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services on a global basis to help companies and firms advance women and build inclusive work environments.

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