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Law firm McCarthy Tétrault tops for work and family balance

Posted by on Jul 10, 2013 in HR Issues, Toronto Star | 0 comments


Toronto-based law firm McCarthy Tétrault has won several awards for its family-friendly workplace practices.


Toronto-based law firm McCarthy Tétrault has won several awards for its family-friendly workplace practices.

By: At Work, Special to the Star, Published on Tue Jul 09 2013

Toronto-based law firm McCarthy Tétrault has won several awards for its family-friendly workplace practices.

At the recent Women in Business Law Awards held in New York and sponsored by the financial publishing group Euromoney, the firm was recognized as the best in Canada overall and for women as well. It was also named the best North American law firm because of its work-life balance.

The award is another feather for McCarthy, which has also been recognized as a Top 100 Canadian employer and one of Canada’s best diversity employers. McCarthy has over 1,500 employees in five Canadian cities, plus an office in London, England.

Like many large Canadian law firms, McCarthy gives lawyers on maternity leave full salary for the two-week Employment Insurance (EI) waiting period, plus a top-up to 100 per cent of salary for 15 weeks of maternity leave. A similar top-up to full salary for four weeks is available to fathers taking parental leave.

Support staff have a comparable arrangement at 90 per cent of salary.

But new parents also receive a parental leave toolkit with a broad range of resources, including others at the firm who have recently taken a leave. In addition, they have access to a company that helps with daycare and nanny searches. And a novel “maternity leave buddy program” helps associates maintain client relationships while they are on leave.

Tara Piurko, a partner in the firm, says the buddy plan has worked well for her.

“Some people found it odd that I chose a corner-office male partner with no kids. But the purpose of the buddy was to stay connected to my files and my group, not to discuss how I was going to take care of my children.”

McCarthy Tétrault has two levels of partnership – income partners (a transitional category) and equity partners (who have full profit-sharing). Lawyers on a partnership track are typically expected to work long hours, but modified arrangements can be negotiated for staff with family responsibilities.

The firm’s Chief Diversity Officer Lisa Vogt believes there is a good business case for offering a work-life balance. “We will work with any committed lawyer who needs flexibility at different times in his or her career,” she says.

Vogt’s role was formalized this year, but the firm has been focused on moving women into leadership positions for over a decade.

In 2004, McCarthy retained diversity consulting firm Catalyst to make recommendations on how it could improve its policies. In that year, 27 per cent of the firm’s income partners were women. By last year, that had increased to 45 per cent. In 2012, only four equity partners were appointed, but two of them were women and one person was identified as a visible minority. Women now make up more than half of junior associates, a 10-year high.

Julie Parla started as a summer law student in 1999 and has taken time off to have children. She also deferred her application for partnership in order to have more time with her family. She says the firm encouraged her to do so, even though it delayed her rise in the leadership ranks for several years. She has since become a partner.

“The firm’s culture and policies have made all the difference,” she says.

Euromoney’s shortlist of best Canadian law firms included Davies Ward Phillips and Vineberg, Goodmans, Gowling Lafleur Henderson, Norton Rose, Osler Hoskin & Harcourt, Smart Biggar and Stikeman Elliott

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