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Rotman program addresses unique challenges women lawyers face in leadership

January 20, 2023

When Jill Davis was an eighth-year associate at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP (Blakes) in 2019, she had a pivotal career question on her mind: “Is pursuing partnership at the firm my next step?”

Jill Davis, partner at Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP and participant in Business Leadership for Women Lawyers.

While she was motivated to go for it, there was still an inkling of hesitation. Partnership would come with a new set of responsibilities, and Davis was pregnant with her third child at the time. Although she had some fantastic women mentors in her circle who could help guide her through the career transition, there weren’t many.

Then came an opportunity to spend two days at the Rotman School of Management with other women lawyers from across Canada, along with top faculty members in the areas of organizational behaviour and leadership.

“Particularly at that time in my career, a program that was tailored to a woman’s experience and journey to becoming a leader really appealed to me,” says Davis, who completed the Business Leadership for Women Lawyers program in 2019.

The program was designed in collaboration with women lawyers and sponsoring law firms, including Blakes, McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Osler LLP. Open to income partners, senior associates and patent agents, the program addresses the unique challenges for women as they move into leadership roles in law.

“It was all about how to approach your career and life in a much more strategic way. It gives you a chance to hit pause on the day-to-day busyness and reflect on your career — take stock of what you’ve done, where you are and where you want to go,” says Davis. Led by organizational behaviour experts like Tiziana Casciaro and Julie McCarthy, participants explore how to elevate their professional networks to develop a robust book of business, rethink their perception of power in the workplace, and master resiliency and work-life balance.

“It gives you a chance to hit pause on the day-to-day busyness and reflect on your career — take stock of what you’ve done, where you are and where you want to go.”

—Jill Davis, Partner, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP

"On a personal level, connecting with the other women in a very supportive environment was what I valued most. We all had similar careers with similar challenges, but it was interesting to hear insights from such a diverse group of women,” says Davis.

It turned out to be the boost of assurance she needed before pursuing partnership. Shortly after the program, she applied for partnership and has continued her work at Blakes as a partner since January 2020.

“The program helped me think through how to present myself to the committee considering my application for partnership — not only presenting my work, but also the network I’m building, the business case I had for the future and my abilities to be a leader at the firm,” Davis says.


Mary Jackson, chief officer of professional resources at Blakes.

Blakes has sent more than 70 women lawyers to the Rotman program over the years — it’s one way they succeed in helping more women progress within the firm.

“Women associates often contact me a year in advance requesting to be sent to the program, and time and time again, I see people come out of the program feeling inspired,” says Mary Jackson, chief officer of professional resources at Blakes.

“Jill has always been an exceptional lawyer, but after the program I noticed that she had more confidence in knowing that she could be a partner."

Since she joined Blakes in 1999, Jackson says there’s been much higher retention of women and more women applying for partnership over time. She’s also noticed a shift in perspective when it comes to leadership.

“I think now, more women lawyers feel that partnership is an option. People are seeing a broader variety of women succeeding and sharing their experiences — women with children, without children, women of colour, in the LGBTQI2S+ community and from different backgrounds,” she says.

“There's a lot of ambiguity in the world of work in 2023. How is work going to change? What's the relationship between in-person and remote work, and how will those patterns change with broader issues in society and the economy? I think it’s the perfect time to build a really strong network through a program like this."

Learn more about Business Leadership for Women Lawyers →


Download a program information sheet →

The Business Leadership for Women Lawyers program is eligible for 12 hours of Continuing Professional Development hours by the Law Societies of Ontario, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Le Barreau du Quebec. Connect with the program team to learn more: