Bamboozling Canada’s Top Legal Minds
In a paper
presented to the Canadian Bar Association
Female attrition rates are high, she said, because firms still retain “an Edwardian male-dominated model, where the professional was expected to work long hours and give 100 percent devotion to his career.
My own assessment
of life in a
Madam Justice McLachlin attempted to appeal to the firms’ bottom lines, telling them: “A recent study has estimated the average cost to a law firm of an associate’s departure at $315,000 based on investment costs (such as recruitment and training), and separation costs.”
That’s a terrible
waste, indeed, if true--but one that could
easily be reduced by allowing law firms and potential employees to sort
themselves out into their proper pigeon-holes before hiring. Firms
able to question applicants about their intended lifestyles and their
to withstand the rigors of
This would at least give firms a chance to weed out applicants who may lack the competitiveness, drive or robust health necessary to survive. And it might clarify to some applicants, if they didn’t already know, exactly what the firm’s expectations for them would be. They might choose to spare themselves the torture immediately, rather than after several years of agony.
Unfortunately, questions like these are forbidden, both under the rules of professional conduct and the human rights codes. So the mismatches, the personal discomfort and the waste of money continue.
But what about
that price tag of $315,000 per associate? It
certainly doesn’t cost my small
The $315,000 figure, it turns out, includes (among other things) all the salaries paid to associates when they were summer students and articling students. But five pages after it first presents this startling figure, the report confesses: “These costs do not capture the revenues associates generate while they are employed by their firms.”
In other words, the $315,000 figure is only one side of the coin. Firms pay out that much, on average, over the entire course of each departing associate’s tenure. But they also earn income by billing clients for the work the associate performed.
How much income? The report doesn’t say. It does say, however, that firms break even on an associate provided that he or she stays at least 1.8 years. After that point, they actually make a profit, not a loss, on associates--even those who eventually leave.
This is an entirely different picture from the one painted in Madam Justice McLachlin’s speech. Firms clearly aren’t losing anywhere near $315,000 when an associate leaves. They may be losing nothing at all. To know for sure, we’d have to know how long most associates stay—that is, whether they exceed the breakeven point of 1.8 years or not.
The Catalyst report is conspicuously silent on this point. But a 1991 study by the Law Society of British Columbia entitled “Women in the Legal Profession” may shed some light. It showed that female lawyers who had quit practicing had worked a median of 3.2 years. If this figure is still true in 2007, then law firms needn’t be overly concerned about associate turnover. They’re not losing a penny.
Also conspicuously absent from the Catalyst report is any consideration of what it would cost to make the kind of changes Madam Justice McLachlin thinks might persuade associates to remain. If firms had to establish in-house daycare centres, or pay rent on unused office space while associates take sabbaticals or work part-time, the cost of keeping an associate could easily outweigh the cost of losing one.
What’s perturbing is that the Catalyst study not only bamboozled
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