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Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Creating Opportunities for Better Balance, New Catalyst Canada Study Spotlights Work Life Challenges

In-depth research of Canadian law firms shows that nearly two-thirds of all lawyers face difficulties

A new Catalyst Canada study released today, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt: Creating Opportunities for Better Balance, reveals that nearly two-thirds of all lawyers in law firms report difficulty managing the demands of work and personal/family life. The study also details how changes can be made within law firms to address work-life balance issues but not at the expense of a firm’s business goals and market realities. 

Today, just one in four Canadians report that the demands they face at work make it difficult to meet their non-work responsibilities. In comparison, roughly one in two lawyers in Canada report that they feel challenged managing the demands of their work and personal/family life. At double the rate of the overall workforce, law firm lawyers represent an extreme example of the work-life challenges faced by a growing number of Canadians across industries. 

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 analyzed the work-life balance perceptions and challenges faced by women and men partners and associates. 

“Work-life balance challenges are not exclusive to women lawyers and working mothers. Men lawyers, too, face work-life balance trade-offs and pressures. Work-life conflict is common to men and women lawyers, a fact critical to those law firms committed to managing their talent—all talent—effectively,” said Catalyst Canada President Susan Black, Ph.D. 

Among the study’s key findings:

  • Approximately one-half of those lawyers satisfied with their overall work environments are satisfied with their ability to manage their work and personal/family responsibilities.
  • More than one-half of partners and two-thirds of associates report they often or very often put work before their families or personal life.

While the study shows that both men and women lawyers experience work-life balance difficulty, the challenge of managing work and personal/family responsibilities is felt disproportionately by women lawyers, especially women associates. 

The study also reveals that:

  • More women associates (75 percent) , women partners (69 percent) and men associates (66 percent) report difficulty managing the demands of work and personal/family life than men partners (46 percent).
  • More women lawyers (70 percent) then men lawyers (56 percent) feel that advancement in their firms depends on putting career before personal/family life.
  • More men partners (63 percent) than other lawyers (41 percent of women partners; 28 percent of men associates, and 18 percent of women associates) are satisfied with their informal work flexibility.
  • More men partners (46 percent) than other lawyers (32 percent of women partners; 33 percent of men associates and 21 percent of women associates) report their firms’ leadership is supportive of helping partners and associates manage work and personal/family responsibilities. 

The Catalyst Canada study further shows how law firms can positively impact the work-life balance experiences for lawyers through tangible and achievable steps to address lawyers’ difficulties managing work and personal/family responsibilities. 

A Note on the Flexibility in Canadian Law Firms Series
The Flexibility in Canadian Law Firms series is Catalyst’s contribution to law firms’ efforts to address work-life balance issues among their lawyers. 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 third report in the series will be
released in 2006. 

The study’s ten 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 with businesses and the professions to build inclusive environments and expand opportunities for women at work. As an independent, nonprofit membership organization, Catalyst conducts research on all aspects of women’s career advancement and provides strategic and web-based consulting services globally. With the support and confidence of member corporations and firms, Catalyst remains connected to business and its changing needs. In addition, Catalyst honors exemplary business initiatives that promote women’s leadership with the annual Catalyst Award.