by Jean McKenzie Leiper. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2007. 256pp. Hardcover. $85.00. ISBN: 9780774813198. Paper. $29.95. ISBN: 9780774813204.

Reviewed by Susan Gluck Mezey, Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago. Email: smezey [at]


Jean McKenzie Leiper’s book on Canadian women in the legal profession is interesting on a number of levels. Although the focus of the book is on women lawyers in Canada, her story is generally applicable to women lawyers in other countries, including the United States, and, indeed, is relevant to many women professionals. Her research is based on interviews with women lawyers carried out over a twelve-year period. Each chapter includes generous quotes from her subjects to illustrate her discussion and flesh out her narrative. Another valuable feature of this book is the way in which the author integrates the work of feminist scholars such as Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Catharine MacKinnon, Carol Gilligan, Naomi Cahn, and Deborah Rhode, and consequently weaves a feminist analysis into her study.

Because her interview techniques play an important role in her findings, they should be briefly described. She began interviewing subjects in 1994, limiting her respondents to Toronto and London, Ontario; four years later, as a result of a grant, she was able to broaden her respondent pool to include the entire province of Ontario, adding fifty new respondents to the original sixty. Thus, employing sophisticated methods of analyzing this qualitative data, she and her assistants interviewed (and re-interviewed) a total of 110 women for the study. Her discussions are enriched by her continual efforts to return to the women in her sample to ask follow-up questions and track their progress (or lack thereof) in the legal profession, as well as their family status. Through this method, she is able to report on the status of some of her women respondents through 2006.

One of the shortcomings of the book, however, is that she limits her respondents to women, a technique that perhaps allows her to report their stories in greater depth, but obviously at the same time, constrains her ability to determine the extent to which sex plays a role in the lives of the members of Ontario’s legal profession. She does not really provide a satisfactory explanation for the decision to have a single-sex pool of respondents except to say that she chose this approach “because, without doubt, their [women’s] experiences differ from those of most men engaged in the practice of law” (p.15). Although I have no difficulty believing this to be the case, clearly this single-sex research approach precludes a conclusive demonstration of her assertion.

Leiper seeks to answer the question that US scholars have also raised a number of times: why it is that women enter the legal profession in equal (or more recently, even greater) numbers than men, yet are more commonly found [*459] in the lower ranks of the profession? Her answer, one echoed by many others, is that family obligations (perceived or real) encumber women in their jobs. (There is some immediate support for this conclusion in the fact that women with children lag behind women without children.) More broadly, she attributes the status of women in the profession to differences in the time constraints placed on women and men. And although most of her respondents self-report an imbalance of labor in their households, it would have been very useful to gain the male perspective on this issue.

Leiper devotes an entire chapter to the effects of “robing” on women lawyers, describing in great detail how, although women in her study perceive these robes as instruments of the patriarchy, many also believe that they help heighten their sense of professionalism, confidence, and authority. Because this experience is irrelevant for women lawyers in the United States, this chapter provides an interesting point of comparison between the two countries, although it does limit the generalizability of her findings to those countries with the same tradition.

She recounts the slow progress of women lawyers in Canada, beginning with the first Commonwealth woman admitted to the bar in Ontario in 1897. As in the United States, Canadian women have overtaken men to become 57 percent of the legal profession in May 2005. However, despite these numbers, according to Leiper, the increasing presence of women has not greatly succeeded in changing the norms of the profession, which still largely operates on male norms, especially with respect to family relations. Indeed, she paints a dismal picture of the status of women lawyers in Ontario; far from achieving equality, they still confront discrimination in the form of sexual harassment, glass ceilings, and wage gaps. She appears to take some comfort in the fact that at least their presence has helped place these issues on the agenda and has stimulated debate on the status of women in the profession.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of women’s experiences in law school and the changing nature of legal education. Leiper indicates that sex is no longer as important in structuring the law school experience. According to her, the data upon which such conclusions are derived are outdated and based on a narrow subset of US law schools, making them inapplicable to the Canadian experience and, indeed, not even very relevant to most schools in the United States today. Although women in her study reported that sex played a role in structuring their law school experiences, they also noted the effects of differences in age and social class.

Beginning in Chapter 4, the “time crunch” chapter, she engages in a detailed exploration of the subject of time and how it affects women lawyers. She discusses the findings of existing studies on time stresses in working families, particularly the effect of these stresses on women. Comparing her results with data from the Canadian General Social Survey, she reports that the legal professionals in her study face more “time crunch” than working women generally. Not surprisingly, her data show that women with younger [*460] children experience the greatest amount of “crunch.” Contrary to what one would expect, however, she also finds that the type of legal practice has little or no effect on the amount of stress they feel.

Specifically, the women in her study report pressures from inadequate sleep, inadequate time to spend with children and/or husbands, and inadequate time for themselves. These women tell a familiar story: they work as long (or longer) than their partners/husbands on their jobs and are nevertheless the ones with primary responsibility for their children and homes. Although some women attempted to reduce the time crunch by easing their professional life burden, in doing so, they naturally faced a reduction in compensation.

Chapter 5 continues the theme of time, focusing on the temporal pressures on women’s lives as determined by “clocks and calendars.” She writes knowledgeably about theories of time, concluding, as many others have, that time is gendered, as men have a great deal more freedom from nonprofessional obligations than women do. She examines the way the legal profession treats women in great detail, observing that the legal establishment tends to ignore women’s family obligations and seems to assume all lawyers have “wives” at home. Access to time, she believes, “is a critical component of social capital that guarantees professional success” (p.141), and because women have less time, and hence less “social capital,” they are generally found in lower status jobs and receive less pay for their work.

Consistent with her efforts to place her study within the context of feminist theory, Leiper discusses the views of such feminists as Julia Kristeva and Carol Watts, including the debate over the centrality of women’s reproductive roles as primarily responsible for the extreme “temporal conflicts” they feel. Her interviews provide rich data on how women must manipulate their schedules to accomplish their multifaceted tasks and demonstrate that, although paid help relieves them of some of the actual labor, it is not a solution, as women must still assume the lion’s share of responsibility for organization of the household.

Leiper has surely captured the essence of the “time crunch,” much of which will sound incredibly familiar to women employed outside the home, lawyers or not. Her respondents report varying degrees of fatigue, guilt, and pressure to perform, all set against the backdrop of billable hours. And although perhaps large firms exacerbate the problems, she observes that women in small firms face their own set of problems, as do women in public interest or government work.

Focusing on women’s careers in Chapter 6, she notes that women generally have different career paths than men do, with more deviations and stops along the way. She emphasizes, however, that although women’s family responsibilities may affect their status as legal professionals, “discriminatory practices” (p.146) are primarily responsible for the salary and partnership gaps between the sexes. Her interview subjects report that pregnancy creates special concerns for them as their [*461] employers or senior partners generally react badly to the news of their pregnancy, largely refusing to accommodate it. Consequently, many women are essentially fired, forced out of their jobs, or relegated to second-class citizenship after announcing their pregnancy. Over and over, the women lawyers in her study describe how problems arising from pregnancy or family obligations led them to pursue different careers or, at least, different jobs.

Leiper concludes by looking back at the legal profession and the role of women in it over the past three decades, acknowledging that there has been a somewhat greater willingness to allow women to reconcile their family and professional obligations. Looking ahead, however, she concludes that there is still a “long way to go” for women to achieve “true equality” as legal professionals (p.178).

Through her initial set of questions and her follow-up interviews, Leiper is able to provide a rich account of the lives of her respondents, chronicling their struggles to make their schedules conform to the demands of their profession and their families. Based on her data, this book represents a solid contribution to the literature on women lawyers and, because of its accessibility, it is appropriate for the classroom as well.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Susan Gluck Mezey.