A divorce lawyer will take a pay cut to avoid a $5,000 annual increase in her base salary.
A spokesperson for the Calgary firm, where the law firm has represented over 500 clients, said Monday that lawyer Jennifer Lefebvre has been told by the legal team she will be taking a salary cut.
“We have reached an agreement with the client that we will reduce our base salary by $5K to $4,600 annually,” wrote Lisa Wojcik, spokesperson for JLF, in an email to CBC News.
“The additional salary is contingent on the client agreeing to the terms.”
The Calgary firm has previously declined to comment on the matter.
The lawyer is one of a growing number of divorce lawyers taking pay cuts as part of a crackdown on discrimination in the legal profession.
A similar agreement was reached with a separate Calgary firm.
“This is part of an ongoing effort to bring parity to the profession,” said John E. Bierman, a lawyer with Wajz, who represents clients from a number of provinces.
“In the past, we have always been able to pay lawyers more based on the number of cases we have dealt with.”
Biermaer says his firm has faced similar challenges in the past but is making it easier for clients to negotiate their salaries with the legal system.
“Our lawyers are very knowledgeable, and we want to give them the best possible deal so that they can go out and provide the services that they’re best at,” he said.
The Calgary lawyer, who has been working for the firm for about two years, will not be required to make any additional payments to clients, nor will her salary be affected.
Lefevre, who is also the president of the Calgary Women Lawyers Association, has been with the firm since its inception.
She has been in the same role for the last two years.
“It’s not that we’re looking to make this change for them, it’s that we want them to know that there are other ways to make a living, and that we are doing this to support the legal community,” said Biermans lawyer, in response to CBC’s questions about the pay cut.
He said it was not a matter of her choosing to make the change, but rather a result of the legal process.
“I think the clients understand this and we appreciate their understanding of that,” said Ewan.
The legal firm said that the pay cuts are contingent on her being cleared by the court.
The lawyers’ move comes after a number other Canadian divorce lawyers have also faced pay cuts this year.
In September, lawyer Daniel Riechmann was forced to take a 10 per cent pay cut in order to secure a settlement with his former wife.
Riechanmann, who represented his ex-wife in the divorce case, said he has had to reduce the number and scope of cases he is dealing with to deal with a rise in cases involving disability discrimination.
“There’s no way to be a successful lawyer without dealing with people,” said Riechtmann, a former law professor at the University of Ottawa.
“You need to deal not only with discrimination but also with the issues that are impacting people’s lives and making it difficult to work in a way that’s safe and productive.”
“This kind of thing happens all the time in the workplace,” said Wojcic.
“Sometimes the best solution is to hire people who understand these issues.”
A spokesperson with the Alberta Bar Association said it is not aware of any cases of legal workers taking pay cut under this program.
“As such, the Alberta legal profession cannot comment on specific cases,” wrote Jennifer Smith, in a statement to CBC.
Wojcy, who says the Alberta divorce lawyers’ pay cuts will have a big impact on her career, says she’s hopeful that other divorce lawyers will follow suit.
“They know what they’re doing is wrong,” she said.
“If other lawyers in Alberta follow their lead and raise their salaries to their level, it will make a huge difference in the number that can afford a lawyer.”
A number of Alberta divorce and family law experts have also said that lowering the salary of a divorce lawyer is a matter that should be up to the court to decide.
“A lawyer’s salary is a big part of what their compensation package is and should be based on what’s best for them and what the client’s wishes are,” said lawyer Elizabeth B. Smith, a professor at Dalhousie University.
“Smith also says that it is unfair that lawyers are making the same decisions about who gets to pay what to who. “
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