2022 National Wellness Study – Part III: Delay in Starting Families
This is the third post in the series on The National Study on the Psychological Health Determinants of Legal Professionals in Canada published by the Université de Sherbrooke, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and the Canadian Bar Association in December 2022 (the “Report”).
The profession of law can delay lawyers from starting families due to a variety of factors related to the demands and time-consuming culture of the legal profession. While none of this will come as a surprise, especially to women in the profession, bringing these issues to light is a step in the right direction. It’s important to shed light on these topics and start openly discussing ways to address these challenges.
The Report does exactly that. It dives deep into the issues that affect work-life balance and the struggles lawyers face when it comes to meeting family pressures. According to the Report, legal professionals in Canada often work long hours and experience high levels of stress. This can make it difficult for them to prioritize personal and family lives outside of work. Lawyers often work evenings and weekends, and they’re expected to be available to clients and colleagues outside of regular business hours. As you can imagine, this makes it quite challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance, particularly for lawyers who are also caring for children or other family members.
The Report also highlights the barriers and discrimination that women in the legal profession encounter, which can significantly impact their decisions around family planning. Research mentioned in the Report indicates that female lawyers are more likely than their male counterparts to delay having children or even choose not to have children due to concerns about balancing family responsibilities with demanding careers. Women lawyers may be less likely to take parental leave or work reduced hours due to concerns about the impact on their careers.
Additionally, the Report notes that the legal profession in Canada often fosters a culture of overwork, where long hours and high workload are seen as necessary for success. This culture can create a lack of support for work-life balance and puts pressure on lawyers to prioritize work over their personal and family lives. Further, the Report discusses how women in the legal profession are more likely than men to experience work-family conflict, which can contribute to stress and burnout. Women lawyers who are mothers may face particular challenges in balancing their professional and personal responsibilities, and may be more likely to experience discrimination or bias as a result of their caregiving responsibilities.
Overall, the demands and culture of the legal profession in Canada can create significant challenges for lawyers in starting and raising families. The Report highlights the urgent need for a more sustainable and healthy approach to legal practice in Canada that recognizes and addresses the unique challenges faced by women, particularly those who are mothers. The Report recommends a variety of strategies to support the well-being of women in the legal profession, including promoting work-life balance, reducing discrimination and bias, and improving access to mental health resources. By employing these types of strategies, we can create an environment where lawyers can confidently pursue their careers while also nurturing their families and personal lives.
While the challenges and demands of facing women in the legal profession may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that change is possible. The fact that we are discussing these issues and raising awareness is a step in the right direction. We have the opportunity to create a future where lawyers, regardless of gender, can thrive both professionally and personally.
About the Authors
Karina Alibhai is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Commercial Litigation and Construction Groups. Karina joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2020, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2021. She received her bachelor’s degree, from McGill University in 2017, where she focused her studies on International Development. Karina attended law school at Thompson Rivers University and graduated in 2020.
Grace Smyth-Bolland is an associate with Harper Grey LLP and works with their Business Law Group. Grace joined Harper Grey as an articling student in 2021, completed her articles with the firm and was called to the BC bar in 2022. She completed her law and philosophy degrees at Adelaide University in 2015 and 2016. Grace immigrated to Canada from Australia in 2017 after spending some time in South America, the US, and the Middle East.