The environment of criminal law has not been kind to its women lawyers. Anecdotally, it is believed that women do not last long in the practice of criminal law due to the many challenges they face in the system. It was not until a report presented by the Criminal Lawyers’ Association or CLA that this anecdote became facts.
In an Ontario conference run by the CLA, it was revealed that an alarming rate of women are quitting their criminal law practice. The report is based on the study made by University of Toronto postgraduate research fellow Natasha Madon and University of Toronto professor emeritus of criminology Anthony Doob.
According to the study, a woman who is a criminal lawyer in Toronto and other parts of the country suffer from low pay and lack of benefits. This is compounded by a lack of respect that translates to a difference in treatment as compared to their male counterparts. Surveys and study groups presented the specific numbers that past the 5-year mark, many women have already quit their practice and past 10 years, there were only a few remaining. In 1996, there were 47 women practicing criminal law. By 2005, only 13 of them were left.
Criminal law in itself is already a demanding field for any gender, but with the inequity in pay, benefits, and treatment, women find that it is not worth the struggle to maintain along with the challenges of family and children. Many women lawyers opt to work government or for the Crown prosecution instead. In those positions, the work hours, compensation, and benefits are much better. There are some solutions in place and under consideration, such as a system for a much-needed maternity leave support, a more stream-lined court process for better work hours and schedules, and sensitivity training for the many actors within the legal system.
A woman criminal lawyer in Toronto and in the rest of the country must be able to practice law with the proper support from the system. It is important that the court system is able to have appropriate representation of both genders. As a reflection of society, the court system must be able to exhibit this representation to ensure that those who exercise justice is as diverse as society.