By Beth Bilson, QC, Brea Lowenberger and Leah Howie
We are excited to share a project we are undertaking that will focus on the experience of women lawyers, and to invite your law firm to participate in that project.
The project, HAVE A SEAT AT THE TABLE – Celebrating Success, Inspiring Action: Letters from women alumni of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law, is informed and inspired in part by previous work of organizations such as the Law Society of Saskatchewan and the ground-breaking Touchstones Report (1993) of the Canadian Bar Association. We know from the Law Society of Saskatchewan’s Justicia Project Report (2016) that “while women are entering the legal profession and private practice in record numbers, the statistics across the country show that they also leave private practice in disproportionate numbers”. As you will be aware, when Saskatchewan lawyers were asked how equitability in their workplace could be improved, the “most common answer (18%) was a need to increase female leadership and overall presence in the workplace” and “[o]verall, there were comments that there seems to be less mentorship occurring today than in the past” and “those who identified a need for more networking among women”. More recently, several participants at the March 2019 meeting of the Dean’s Forum on Access to Justice identified that “[b]arriers to inclusion can be deeply entrenched and so using inspiration from the work and practices developed by others may be an important step to creating a faster pace of change than has historically been the case”.
Our project, as described below, aims to help foster leadership, mentorship, and networking among female lawyers through the compilation of an anthology of letters, a related workshop, and other initiatives resulting from the anthology and workshop that both celebrate success and inspire ongoing action. We know that women lawyers have interesting stories to tell about the paths they have followed, and we think that these stories would be illuminating and inspiring for other women, particularly young women who are contemplating a future in the legal profession. We are hopeful that this initiative may be a launching point to engage with any interested University of Saskatchewan College of Law alumni or other Saskatchewan lawyers.
To start, we have identified fourteen women who are graduates of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan, and who are well-established in the profession: the Hon. Justice Georgina Jackson, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal (Regina), Alma Wiebe, Q.C. and Karen Prisciak Q.C., ASK Law (Saskatoon), Christine Glazer, Q.C., McKercher LLP (Saskatoon), Gwen Gray, Q.C., Alberta Ministry of Labour (Edmonton), Merrilee Rasmussen, Rasmussen Rasmussen & Charowsky (Regina), Yvonne Peters, The Court Challenges Program (Winnipeg), the Hon. Michele Hollins, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (Edmonton), Nicole Sarauer, MLA, Regina Douglas Park (Regina), Jessie Buydens, Scott Phelps & Mason (Saskatoon), Senator Yvonne Boyer, Senate of Canada (Ottawa), Kate Bilson, TransCanada PipeLines Ltd. (Calgary), Courtenay Phillips, Access and Privacy Branch of Ministry of Justice (Regina), and Adrienne Forgeron, Water Security Agency (Moose Jaw).
We are asking each of them to write a letter to their younger self, reflecting on the course their career has taken and on how their gender may have affected their experiences. We have also identified five lawyers who are at an early stage of their legal careers who will write a letter reflecting on the personal course they are anticipating, and on what their experience in legal education and the legal profession has meant for them – and on how their gender may have affected their experiences. The younger lawyer participants include Kath Starks, Supreme Court of Canada Clerk (Ottawa), Brooke Johnson, Crown Prosecutor (North Battleford), Breanna Needham, DLA Piper LLP (Toronto), Julia Quigley, Legal Aid Saskatchewan (Regina), and Amelia Lowe-Muller, Saskatchewan Health Authority (Saskatoon). We are anticipating that each letter will be 3500 to 4000 words long (approximately 10 published pages), and the letters will be compiled as part of a book-length manuscript.
We are also asking the above participants to attend a one-day workshop in Saskatoon in June 2022, at which participants will share their stories and examine both what they have in common with others and what is distinctive about their own experience.
The discussion at the workshop will be used by us as the basis of our own contribution to the project, which will be a section of the manuscript drawing out the main themes arising from the stories and from the discussion itself and placing them in a social and historical context. A publisher has indicated an interest in publishing the finished manuscript and we have already been awarded two grants to help fund the publishing of the book. The Law Society of Saskatchewan is also a key sponsor for the event.
While we have received some funding for the project, we are also, as you may have already received notice of, inviting law firms and lawyers to support the project. We hope that you may consider supporting the initiative by being a sponsor for the project. As a project sponsor, your name or firm’s name can be, if you choose, included in materials at the workshop, in the book, on the associated website, and at the book launch and other events. Thank you to those law firms who have already contacted us in support of the initiative.
We hope that you will support this exciting project. We invite you to let us know at your earliest convenience, on or before Friday, October 1, 2021. To become part of the initiative, or for further information, please contact Brea Lowenberger at CREATE Justice, College of Law, University of Saskatchewan by email or (306) 966–8635.