CBA RARE Project


Would you leave $315,000 on the sidewalk for someone else to find? Of course not. But that is what law firms do when they fail to keep associate lawyers with the firm. According to research completed by Catalyst Canada Research, $315,000 represents a firm’s average investment in lawyer recruiting and training, plus the time others in the firm have spent helping a newer lawyer get established.

When an associate lawyer decides to walk away, the loss is more than just the loss of a trained lawyer. The departure can have a negative impact on the firm's culture and the atmosphere at work. Other lawyers may question why they are staying.

Lawyers leave for reasons that have been well-documented. Law firms can take steps to address these reasons to hold on to their talented lawyers, and their $315,000 investment.

Browse our list of links on retention and on actions lawyers can take to advance their careers.


One of the reasons an associate lawyer may leave a law firm is the lack of opportunity for advancement. This may be because the firm has not been taking on new partners for a while. It is more likely to be because the criteria for advancement are unfair or unknown. Bias enters into advancement decisions in insidious ways.

According to an article in Perspectives, the American Bar Association’s quarterly journal for and about women lawyers, Spring 2009, there are four main patterns to gender bias in law firms: the maternal wall, a double-standard, double binds, and ambivalent sexism.

Here's an example from the article of the double-bind that women lawyers face:

Men's successes

  • attributed to stable personality traits (he is a go getter)

Women's successes

  • attributed to outside factors (a good jury)

Men’s failures

  • ascribed to factors outside their control (a demanding workload).

Women's failures

  • blamed on personality traits (poor time management skills).

"Men are judged on their potential (again because they are assumed to be competent) and women are evaluated on their achievements."

The article goes on to suggest that the best way to eliminate bias is to identify specific job-related competencies and to use a formal rating scale for each competency. This avoids ambiguity and subjectivity, giving all associates an equal chance for advancement. That would be a step in the right direction for lawyers and law firms.

Browse our list of links for lawyers and employers on advancement.


After being out of the legal work world for a few months or a year or two or more, it can be hard to get back in. As author Deborah Epstein writes in an article about “come back” lawyers, “The challenge for the profession is to embrace alternate paths to practice by supporting re-entry lawyers and understanding that it is in the employers’ financial interest to do so.”

Lawyers who have been out of legal practice for a while, for example to raise their children or pursue other career or personal goals, are likely to return with maturity, a clarity of purpose, and a broader range of knowledge and networks.

Here’s a list of ten strengths that women who have taken time away from their law practices to raise children bring back to a law firm.

Ways to assist a lawyer's transition back to the legal work force include:

  • offering them a coach to provide guidance on their return before they come back to work
  • matching them with a mentor on their return to work
  • being open to a flexible work schedule, if requested, and
  • discussing expectations – yours and theirs – with them.

Firms and other employers of lawyers are missing out on top talent when they make it difficult for a lawyer to come back after a time away from legal practice.

RARE Finds

Meet CBA's RARE Finds, a collection of inspirational profiles featuring CBA members who describe – in their own words – the challenges they have met in advancing within the legal profession despite barriers to equality.