Men in Law, Supporting Women in Law
Kim Jakeman, co-founder, LiL & Partner, Harper Grey
Richard Bereti, partner, Harper Grey LLP
Guy Brown, QC, partner, Harper Grey LLP
Timothy Hinkson, partner, Guild Yule LLP
Joel Morris, partner, Harper Grey LLP
Kim: Good afternoon! I want to tell you I am really ready for this panel. Today, I welcome our first group of men(!) to the Dear LiL blog to have, what I think is going to be a very interesting and productive discussion about supporting women in the practice of law. Gentlemen, thank you for being here!
Guy: When I heard this would be the first LiL post by a group of men, I knew I had to be part of it – thanks for including me Kim.
Tim: Yes, thank you Kim. I’m delighted to be here.
Richard: Hi everyone, thanks for having me!
Joel: Glad to be here Kim, great to be here with all of you.
Kim: We, as in Una and myself along with the support of so many others, have spent the better part of the last year figuring out how we, as women, can best support our female peers in the practice of law. We’ve had many discussions, blogged about many topics, and expanded our community and conversation to include a variety of different perspectives. After many discussions and through our own lived experience, we understand that without the continued support of our male colleagues, friends, and family members, we would not have the careers we have today. The conversation is so much bigger than men versus women. We owe a debt of gratitude to the men around us who have mentored and supported us both inside and outside of the office.
Richard: It goes both ways, that is why conversations like these are so important.
Tim: Before we get going on this interview, I want to begin by acknowledging that for starters, I have had the privilege of having at least as many female mentors in this profession as I have had male mentors; and secondly, I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this discussion, so again, thank you for inviting me.
Kim: Thanks Tim, in fact hearing similar sentiments from other men was one of the reasons this panel came to be. So let’s start! We understand that as a profession and society we still have much work to do to achieve true equality – both in relation to pay equity and female representation at the senior partnership and leadership level. Do you think it is important for men to engage in the movement toward equality for women in the practice of law and, if so, why?
Tim: I am happy to jump in first. It is important for men to engage in the movement toward equality for all historically underrepresented groups in this profession, including women. A healthier bar reflecting the ideals of fairness and equality is something we should all be striving for.
Fundamentally, the law is about human problems: How to avoid them and, when that fails, how to resolve them. Anticipating and handling those problems requires perspective. The broader perspective that lawyers have, the better we are able to represent our clients.
Regarding women in particular, while great strides have been made towards ensuring that women are at least equally represented in many law school classes and in the “early years” of the profession, women still leave the profession at disproportionately higher numbers than men. Many of those who intend to leave on a temporary basis, face barriers to coming back. The issue becomes apparent mid-level or in more senior positions, including partnership, where the number of women is disproportionately lower than their male counterparts. Systemic issues, internal and external to the profession, continue to create barriers for women that do not affect men in the same way. A profession that is fundamentally about people thrives on diversity.
Joel: Well put Tim, and I second that – yes, it is important for men to actively participate in the movement toward equality for women in the practice of law. I see two reasons for that. First, we want to attract the best candidates to the profession, and we need to be as inclusive as possible in order to do that. Second, lawyers cannot effectively represent their clients without the diversity of experiences and perspectives that exist within the community we serve.
As lawyers, we occupy a privileged position in society. Male lawyers have benefited most from that privileged position.
As the profession is currently structured, men occupy many positions of power – within firms, within other legal organizations, and in the courts. It is necessary for that to change. But in the interim, in order to effect that change, it is important for men in those positions of power to actively support equality through those roles, and for other men in the profession to actively support those efforts.
Guy: To Joel’s point regarding the prevalence of males in positions of power, it is vitally important for men to work towards establishing equality for women in law. Not only is it the right thing to do, creating an environment where the talents and contribution of women lawyers are fully recognized and rewarded makes business sense. I believe Kim recently spoke to this in a recent a blog post. Approximately half of practicing lawyers in BC up to 15 years of call are women and women outnumber men in law schools. For a firm to attract the best lawyers, it must attract women.
Kim: Thank you for that plug Guy – much appreciated. And I appreciate your different perspectives. It sounds like we agree the male voice adds significant value to the cause, and for a variety of reasons. Reflecting on your practice, what piece of advice would you give younger male lawyers as to how they can support their female colleagues in the workplace, and advance the goal of gender parity?
Richard: I like this question because, looking back, I thought I was so forward thinking 30 years ago, when in fact I was probably not. Like the times though, I change and adapt. So, advice? From me? Okay, my advice is to make a conscious effort to shift your thinking within your social circle, so that your meaningful working relationships aren’t specific to gender – for everything – cards, hockey, lunch, work, help. If you think along gender lines, this will go a long way to erasing them.
Joel: Further to that, as a young male lawyer at a private firm who is frequently a part of that social circle Richard is referring to: recognize the privileged position you are in (in respect of various aspects of social inequality), do not be silent when you see inequality, and actively participate in efforts that support equality.
Kim: This advice and action on part of senior male lawyers really holds a lot of weight. The younger generation of male lawyers will learn to emulate what they see and so thank you both for sharing your views. What do you think Tim?
Tim: I’d say, be respectful of individual styles of analysis, argument, and interaction, including client development. I’d tell a young lawyer to listen, purposefully and meaningfully, to your female colleagues, particularly about their experience in the profession. Seek out and accept critical feedback from your female colleagues. Be willing to hear about blind spots in your own style and approach. Invest in each other’s success by promoting each other with clients, colleagues in your firm and at bar, and giving each other opportunities to stand out. Share your network.
Avoid saying nothing about anything on the topic of gender parity or discriminatory behaviour.
Kim: Well put, Tim. The next question I’d like to broach is why is it so critical to have female lawyers represented in firm leadership positions and how can senior lawyers support women in leadership roles?
Guy: Women are increasingly assuming influential roles in private and public enterprises across society. It is essential in all organizations, including the practice of law, for women to become more involved in management to set goals and standards that position the firm to take advantage of this demographic change.
Richard: Yes – women need to lead because if leadership does not reflect that fact then it is by default saying that the organization does not recognize or respect the capability of women. This is not good for anyone; not good for the organization and not fair to women. Senior lawyers, regardless of their gender, are role models and modeling support for younger lawyers is essential.
Joel: I completely agree – having female lawyers represented in firm leadership positions demonstrates that a firm supports equality, both internally (in particular, to other female lawyers and firm members) and externally.
Kim: So, we agree we need more representation in leadership roles. Why do you think we haven’t hit this milestone yet? Tim?
Tim: Like everyone else, I believe that meaningful, rather than symbolic, gender parity must be achieved at all levels of the profession. Studies continue to show that female lawyers are more likely than their male counterparts to be interrupted, mistaken for non-lawyers, and to have less access to prime job assignments.
Issues relating to parenting persist. Female lawyers starting a family may feel compelled to defer partnership opportunities so as to preserve parental leave benefits that are not available to partners, either to the extent that they are to associates or at all. Male lawyers, in general, may be reluctant to take parental leave and face the same partnership considerations if they do.
One older study suggests that female proteges mentored by women report more career satisfaction, more intent to continue practicing law, professional expectations that were met to a greater degree, and less work-nonwork conflict than those women who were mentored by men.
Meaningful gender parity in firm leadership positions will ensure a more balanced discussion and decision-making process, as well as more potential mentors for younger female lawyers seeking mentorship from someone who can identify with her challenges in practicing law. Until female lawyers are equally represented in firm leadership positions, the risk will always be that the conversation will favour the male perspective.
In order to support women in leadership roles, senior lawyers must support women on the pathways to leadership: as law students, articled students, associates, partners, clients, and so on. This means putting female lawyers on files, introducing them to key clients, and providing external speaking opportunities, among other things. When women are in leadership roles, senior lawyers can continue to support them by being respectful and appreciative of their leadership.
Kim: Personally, the men in my life are an integral part of the story of my own career. Almost all successful female lawyers have had at least one or two male mentors/sponsors whom they credit for advancing their careers. You all have certainly played that role for a number of female lawyers. Looking back, what caused you to invest in their career advancement?
Joel: Simply put, I have invested in mentorship relationships with lawyers who have been committed to becoming the best lawyer they can be, regardless of their gender.
Tim: I have had the privilege of being mentored by a number of exceptional women during my time in this profession and prior to entering the profession. I have invested in the career advancement of women for the same reason that I have invested in the career advancement of every lawyer who I’ve mentored: because I can and because it is the right thing to do.
Richard: I have also been lucky. The women with whom I have worked have not only been incredibly talented, but on a personal level they are also all amazing people. For this reason and many others, mentoring has been a highlight of my career. The highlight in fact. So for me it has been selfish as I know I benefitted so much.
Guy: I have always made a special effort to support the advancement of young lawyers who show promise through hard work and ability. Not only does it give me personal satisfaction to see these lawyers succeed, development of legal talent is the core to long term success of a firm. Not surprisingly, some of these high-achieving individuals are women.
Kim: Do you think that younger male lawyers are now facing some of the similar issues historically faced by their female colleagues, given the societal shift toward two-income households and a fairer division of household responsibilities between men and women? If so, what can/should firms do to attract and retain young talent (male and female)?
Richard: I think young men do face some added pressure yes, but not to the same extent that women do – sorry guys. Flexibility, and respecting young lawyers as they raise families, is a must, but young women still carry way too much of the load. I am not ready to say the pendulum has swung that far yet! Let’s encourage young men to really participate at home, because failing to do so isn’t fair to their family. As the old saying goes, our actions speak loudly as to whether we really see women as equal. If you aren’t going to step up at home, who is it exactly you think should be picking up the slack? Exactly…
Kim: What do you think Guy?
Guy: I have observed a trend towards male lawyers accepting more responsibility at home, particularly where their spouses are also professionals with equivalent work demands. I believe some of the accommodations for women lawyers I mentioned previously will need to be extended to men as well. However, all lawyers, men and women, who wish to pursue a more flexible and less demanding work arrangement will need to accept that there may be a price to pay in terms of income and access to fixed resources.
Joel: Agreed, although in my experience at a private firm, young male lawyers are still in a privileged position compared to young female lawyers. There has been a societal shift toward a more equitable division of household labour (e.g., childcare, housekeeping, and other tasks) compared to a so-called “traditional” division of household labour; but I think there are still different expectations for men and women amongst older lawyers. In order to attract and retain young lawyers, firms need to promote flexibility in work arrangements so that male and female lawyers can manage their professional and household responsibilities.
Tim: I think men are (willingly and enthusiastically) facing (and embracing) increased demands on their non-work time, but I don’t think that the issues they are facing are similar to those historically faced by their female colleagues. In addition to the comments set out above, studies still show women take on an increased load at home and face higher expectations to find some sort of “work-life balance”.
At a minimum, to attract and retain young talent, firms should proactively ensure that they are representative of society at large. A firm that does not reflect the values of its clients risks losing those clients. When reviewing applications for articling positions, I have purposefully ensured that our pool of candidates was at least 50% female. Our firm supports flexible work arrangements and we strive to protect and respect each lawyer’s personal circumstances, including as it relates to family, as much as we reasonably can. Pay equity among associates is basic. More generally, our goal is that each lawyer achieves what is possible for them in the profession while remaining true to themselves — using their own voices as advocates.
Kim: I am so encouraged to hear your strategy on recruiting articling students Tim. I know this is something that is very important to us at Harper Grey as well.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this constructive and open discussion with you all – and am grateful for your collective participation. Our fight for equality for women in law and maintaining a voice at the table is an important one and while I know we aren’t fighting alone it is good to be reminded through discussions like this. There are so many men like yourselves furthering the cause and walking the walk and on behalf of the Life in Law gang, I want to say thank you for that. Until next time gentlemen!
Guy: Thank you Kim!
Tim: Thank you Kim, Richard, Guy and Joel.
Richard: Thank you everyone – be sure to let us know if there is a part two!
Joel: Thanks for having me Kim. It was great discussing with you all today.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kim Jakeman is a partner at Harper Grey and – in case this is your first time here – also the co-founder of Life in Law. Not only is Kim a skilled mediator, she also maintains a busy dual practice focused mainly on litigation in the area of medical malpractice, and regulatory work involving professionals facing disciplinary proceedings before a variety of regulatory bodies. Kim is almost as passionate about biking, her new love of surfing, and working out as she is about supporting women in the legal profession. A master of her own balancing act, when Kim isn’t busy with work, she spends coveted time with her family and friends.
Richard is a Partner at Harper Grey, co-chair of their Environmental Law Group, and an active member of their Commercial Litigation Group. Recognized nationally as a leading environmental law lawyer Richard is the author of the book, “British Columbia Environmental Management Legislation & Commentary, a guide to the regulation of contaminated sites” which quickly became a “must have” resource for developers, property owners, environmental consults and lawyers. If he looks familiar to you, it’s likely because he is a sought-after presenter and often speaks at continuing education and industry conferences on environmental issues. Originally from Regina and, when there aren’t provincial health recommendations to shelter in place, Richard enjoys spending part of his summer vacation with his young family at their lakeside cabin in Saskatchewan.
Guy Brown, QC
Guy is a Partner with Harper Grey and chair of their Health Law Group. His civil litigation practice focuses on professional negligence and major personal injury claims and providing insurance coverage opinions. You can often find Guy advocating on behalf of physicians in hearings before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia and the Medical Services Commission of British Columbia. His skill in arguing the merits of complex issues is unparalleled. Which has led to his recognition as the 2021 “Health Law Lawyer of the Year” and 2020 “Insurance Law Lawyer of the Year” in Vancouver by Best Lawyers in Canada. As an accomplished leader in the profession he often speaks at continuing education seminars in the legal, medical and insurance realms. He has served on both the firm’s management committee and as chair of our insurance law group. Guy’s interests away from work include construction projects at his home and cabin, craft cocktails and jazz.
Tim is a Partner at Guild Yule LLP and has been a friend of Kim Jakeman’s for nearly 25 years. His practice focuses on professional liability and personal injury. Tim has represented lawyers, health authorities, dentists and school boards, among others, in British Columbia’s courts. He has also acted for nurses, real estate agents and dentists in proceedings before their regulatory bodies. In 2021, Tim was recognized by Best Lawyers in Canada for his work in legal malpractice law and personal injury litigation. He has been highlighted as a Benchmark Litigation Star since 2018, in the areas of insurance and dispute resolution. Tim is a past-president of the Vancouver Bar Association.
Joel is a Partner in Harper Grey’s Health Law, Commercial Litigation, Professional Regulation, and Insurance Law practice groups. He has represented clients at all levels of court in British Columbia and before various administrative tribunals. Well-known and respected by his peers for his legal acuity, Joel was the recipient of a 2020 Lexpert Rising Stars Leading Lawyers under 40 Award. Apart from his busy practice, Joel is the firm’s Mentorship Partner, leading the student and associate mentorship program at Harper Grey and is one of the firm’s Student Recruitment Coordinators. Giving back to the community is extremely important to Joel. He is the chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and acts as pro bono counsel in civil and administrative law matters. He volunteers as a supervising lawyer with LSLAP (UBC’s Law Students’ Legal Advice Program) and serves as the firm’s LSLAP coordinator. Thought that was the end of the list? Think again! Joel is also an adjunct professor at UBC, Allard School of Law, teaching an upper year course on “Ethics and Professionalism”.