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Beyond Billing: Accountability and Respect in the Workplace

*** The following article is from page 22 of the Spring 2017 edition of the Canadian Bar Association Law Matters magazine. ***

Approximately a year ago, I was privileged to found my own law firm. The experience has been incredibly rewarding, particularly in the new opportunities it has provided me to give back to the legal community. These opportunities have enabled me to speak to several law students and young lawyers and, as a result of our discussions, become more aware of relevant workplace issues within the legal community.

A common theme within our discussions is the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and discrimination within their law firms and the negative impact of these issues on their well-being. I have been privy to acknowledgements of sexism and sexual harassment, bullying by partners and senior associates, discrimination as a result of abstaining from drinking alcohol, and demeaning conduct towards support staff. My peers often express frustration that continuous displays of problematic behaviour are frequently accepted or ignored if the employee in question is deemed a financial asset to the firm.

Prior to working as a sole practitioner, I worked at Alberta Justice as a Crown Counsel. My employer implemented a strong Respect in the Workplace program, in which employees were required to attend courses and partake in specialized training. However, within many law firms, Respect in the Workplace continues to be a foreign concept.

Law firms, regardless of size, would be wise in implementing Respect in the Workplace programs. Problematic workplace environments are resulting in the emergence of a trend in which lawyers, especially young lawyers, are increasingly inclined to change firms, continuously seek out more rewarding employment opportunities, or simply leave the profession. Young lawyers are only staying at their firms out of necessity, until something “better” presents itself. The heightened stress felt by the lawyers is thus leading to higher levels of burnout and is ultimately a gateway into further problems.

 Sanjiv Parmar - Parmar Law - www.parmarlaw.ca

Through Assist’s Peer Support program, the legal community in Alberta is offered free and confidential practical, emotional, and social support on issues like workplace culture. Peer Support is an integral part of Assist’s vision of prevention, and offers 125 trained and qualified volunteers, including articling students and members of the judiciary.

The program is confidential and offered to the legal community in Alberta at no cost. It matches a lawyer or law student seeking help with a peer that understands the person or problem. Since the program launched in 2011, 105 matches have been completed, including 14 in the year 2017.

Work-related issues are the most prevalent seen through Assist’s Peer Support program. For resources on creating a positive culture of community in the workplace, including balancing life and law, and making a referral, visit Assist’s webpage on Workplace Wellness:


 - Heather Patrao,
Assist’s Program Coordinator