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Making connections in law

|Written By Matt Powell

Although more women are pursuing careers in different areas of legal practice, they are leaving private law at a rate of three women to one man, according to the Law Society of Upper Canada. This is a scary statistic to Fay Brunning and Lise Parent who have decided to do something about it. 

“It is startling how few women become partners in the bigger firms,” says Brunning. “But, at the same time, it’s also amazing how women are getting involved in more legal communities and not just public sectors like family law these days.”

Brunning and Parent are co-chairwomen of the Women Lawyers’ Symposium. The event takes place Feb. 5 in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre, and is intended to provide support to women lawyers in private practice.

Speakers, including Supreme Court Justice Louise Charron, will cover issues ranging from assessing career options in legal practice to achieving life-work balance.

“We want to provide the attendees with tools female legal professionals need to network with their peers, and to walk away with information and skills that will help them move forward in the legal community — in whatever shape that takes,” says Brunning.

Parent hopes attendees will learn to pull their heads out of their work and reach out to others for support, and provide support.

“They will feel less isolated, [they] can exchange ideas, facilitate change but also adjust their expectations (at work and at home) to what is realistic,” says Parent. “This inaugural symposium provides an ideal opportunity for women to do just that.”

Parent is a partner at Parent Carr. She practises family law and is a past president of the County of Carleton Law Association. Brunning practises civil litigation with Sack Goldblatt Mitchell LLP in Ottawa, and previously worked on the board of directors for The Advocates’ Society.

Both are involved in analyzing trends in the Canadian legal community, especially those involving women, and as more women are practising in different areas of the law, Brunning and Parent have noticed the importance of providing female lawyers with a place to network, learn, and leave with skills relating to balancing work and play, and providing for a family.

“What I went through when I started in 1989 was a lot different than how it is now,” says Parent. “It’s still not perfect for everyone, but there are more policies in place relating to the needs of a family now, like maternity leave. What people need to understand is that there will be change in the traditional law model.”

Both women, however, want to encourage female law students to attend the event to get a head start on their careers, meet established lawyers, and learn about some of the realities of pursuing a legal career.

“We would love as many students as possible to come,” says Brunning. “It’s not just about everyone sharing their experiences, it’s about coming to learn about other people’s experiences too. You can’t learn everything about the legal workplace in law school, but you might learn something that can make the transition into your career a little easier at the forum.”

They hope a large number of students will come, and have made the event a little more affordable, reducing the student ticket price to $100. For information on the symposium visit: