Born and raised in Vancouver Alison Murray graduated with a B.A from UBC in 1979, then UBC’s Allard Hall School of Law in 1982 and was swiftly called to the Bar in 1983. Her success goes far beyond the courthouse as she achieved QC status in 2009, has annually been included on the Best Lawyers in Canada List since 2012 and was recently awarded the 2015 CLEBC Leader in Learning Award. In addition to perpetual court success and such accolades Mrs. Murray can easily be praised as a beacon of what the legal professional should be, as she is deeply and continuously involved in the legal community; constantly charring legal education programs, being a Editorial Board Member of the BC Motor Vehicle Accidents Claim Manual and writing and presenting over 80 publications. We were privileged to question Mrs. Murray on the reality of being such a successful women in such a competitive male driven field.
- In 1990, after only practicing for 7 years, you became a partner at a large firm. At the time how many partners in that firm were women?
Before I had been made partner there was only one female partner in the firm, but by the time I was made partner she was no longer with the firm. The year I was made partner another women was appointed with me, but the firm had about roughly 30 partners. I was the only female partner in the litigation department.
- Did that in any way reflect the general demographic of female partners in large firms?
Most larger firms had some women partners, but there were still some without any women partners
- What was it like being a women in that position at the time?
At the time it was a male culture and things were easier for men, and the men socialized with each other. But this isn’t to say that they ever excluded me, they did try to actively involve me but it was difficult for them coming from such a boys club mentality to all of a sudden have to involve a women. I never found it intimidating, but I did at times feel uncomfortable.
- Did that in any way influence you to start your own firm and was that in any way frightening?
Absolutely, that’s the reason we started the firm. We wanted to practice law in an environment that was more supportive and less competitive, a firm that fit our vision of what the practice of law should be. At the time we were venturing into unknown territory, there were very few firms that were started by women. I think it was only one other firm started by women. I wasn’t necessarily frightened but I felt brave. I feel that what we did was braver than being a partner in a big firm
- You say you wanted to work in a firm that was less competitive, was working in a large firm intrinsically competitive?
Yes, being in a firm was competitive, in the sense of “you eat what you kill mentality” but that just reflects the model of business, especially such a male dominated business, at the time. There were few opportunities to do part time work to look after your family.
- When you first opened your firm with Madam Justice Dickson did you ever feel that, as a firm of only women, you weren’t’ taken seriously?
Certainly, not so much by lawyers but by a few non-lawyers. My father, who was a lawyer, and his friends found what we were doing funny. They would constantly ask if we were doing ‘estate and family litigation’, fields taken as almost fluff. Luckily this didn’t stay for too long, or at least I didn’t notice if it did but I ignored the majority of it. I’m sure there were some lawyers that found it cute but they were never too vocal about their opinions.
- First of all congratulations on receiving Queens Council, such an accolade is truly amazing. When you won how many other women received this distinction?
37 people were appointed at the time, 6 were women. It’s never 50:50 though
- In North American law schools the gender ratio is essentially equal, but it is seen that not even 40% of practicing lawyers in North America are women, why do you think this discrepancy exists?
Women have to work harder, be smarter and also unlike men they’re typically running a household. It’s extremely difficult to juggle the two, especially for women who are the predominant force in the household and who have the pressure of family resting on their shoulder. Without a doubt in my mind the pressure of family is the biggest reason women drop out of the legal practice. Even when women don’t drop out of the profession the typically are drawn more to positions such as in house counsel that offer a more 9-5 structure or to being part time lawyers because they find it easier to balance their professional and personal life.
- You’re heavily involved in the legal community as a whole, especially with editorial boards and CLE’s, do you find that women or men are more involved in such activities?
It is pretty equal, as the percentage represents the women who are practicing, which remember is considerably lower than men. But, still women are not invited as often to speak at CLE seminars, it’s definitely more men than women and there’s no reason in this day and age that it shouldn’t 50:50
- Did you ever feel that as women in your field there were certain obstacles you had to overcome to succeed (independent as the role of mother)?
For sure, male partners in my youth preferred to give better opportunities to other men. I don’t know if the perception was don’t give it to the girl but there were opportunities that were denied to women purely based on their sex, some were subtle and some weren’t. I had other partners tell me they didn’t want to work with me because their wives would be jealous. But remember when I started out women couldn’t be admitted to the Vancouver Club or the Terminal City Club, which was typically were the men interacted.
- Personally what do you think is the hardest thing about your profession? Does this change if you look at if as a female or male?
Just the pure hours that at times you must work, especially when you’re in court and you have 80 hours a week, and 14 hour days for 10 consecutive days. It may change marginally when you look at through the lens of gender, as it’s harder on someone with a family if you have to do that and then go home and feed a family. That being said I’m sure that no male lawyer would say that the hours are easy.
Written By: Mia Stewart